For most, life in Whistler comes with a particular set of challenges. But what exactly are those challenges, and how dire are they, really?
In a nutshell, that’s what the Whistler Community Foundation (WCF) attempts to define in its latest Vital Signs report, a 13-page document officially released to the public on Friday, March 3.
The annual Vital Signs report functions as a “community check-up,” or a snapshot leaning on robust data sets from numerous sources to paint as full a picture as possible of how Whistler is faring overall. Vital Signs is a global program intended to turn community knowledge into positive local impacts. It began as a Toronto Foundation initiative in 2001.
In addition to offering a general rundown of Whistler’s community demographics, this year’s report sought to answer three distinct questions: Does Whistler have a sustainable future? Is our community liveable? And, finally, is everyone thriving?
The data was compiled from sources like Statistics Canada, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and local non-profits throughout the last year, said WCF executive director Claire Mozes. This year’s report is a particularly important one, considering Statistics Canada’s 2021 census data was available to draw from, she explained. It was the first full-scale census conducted since 2016.
“It’s a combination of looking at the data, and then continuing to ask questions about what is actually happening in Whistler—what are we hearing? What are we seeing?—and then really starting to narrow down the data,” into those three themes, she said.
The report touches on a wide variety of topics ranging from transit, mental-health services and childcare access to crime rates, GHG emissions and housing affordability, to name just a few of them. But figuring out which of the three questions to assign these data sets to wasn’t an easy task.
“Everything is so intersectional,” Mozes explained. “It’s really impossible to think about something like mental health and then not relate it to things like affordability, or living conditions like housing. We really recognized that there was a lot of overlap between themes … it all is very interrelated.”
ARE WHISTLERITES EARNING A LIVING WAGE?
The Vital Signs report defines a living wage as the hourly rate required to live a “bare-bones” life—for example, room for a contingency fund, but none for loan or interest payments, retirement savings, home ownership, or much extra spending beyond basic living expenses.
According to a 2019 presentation from the RMOW’s Economic Development Team, Whistler’s living wage was set that year at $25.37 per hour, per adult working 35 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, based on a two-income family with two children.
That figure hasn’t been updated since before the pandemic, but if Whistler’s living wage assessment grew at a similar pace to Vancouver’s, that would mean a 17.3-per-cent increase over the last year, for an estimated hourly rate of $30.18 per adult, according to the report.
In 2020, women in Whistler made a median annual wage of $41,200, or about $22.64 hourly, while local men earned a median total income of $47,600, or $26.15 per hour. About 56 per cent of Whistler’s population of 13,983 took home a total annual income of $50,000 or less in 2021, or $27 per hour with a 35-hour workweek.
With those figures in mind, a major theme that emerged throughout the report was Whistlerites’ increased reliance on community services in recent years.
The Whistler Food Bank, for example, saw a record 9,365 visits in 2021, compared to 5,782 in 2020; 3,005 in 2019; and 2,773 in 2018. Whistler Community Services Society’s outreach services, meanwhile, served an all-time high of 6,128 visitors seeking mental and emotional support in 2021, compared to 4,922 in 2020; 3,233 in 2019; and 2,040 in 2018.
“That’s massive,” said Mozes, pointing out that the number of outreach visits just about doubled every two years.
WHAT ABOUT HOUSING?
The Vital Signs report found that, for a B.C. household with a total income of $100,000, the purchase price for an affordable home would come in at about $201,938.
That stands in stark contrast to not only the sky-high median purchase prices of market housing in Whistler in 2021 ($3.3 million for a single-family home, $1.306 million for a townhouse and $770,000 for an apartment), but to Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) sale prices as well.
The median WHA resale price was $276,326 in 2022, while the prices for a new-build, two-bedroom WHA apartment ranged from $405,000 to $460,000, according to the Vital Signs report.
When it comes to rent, however, the WHA’s median monthly rate for a one-bedroom unit, occupied by a couple or single with a total household income of $60,000, was set at $1,500, which the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation agreed is an affordable rate for that income level, as long as non-housing expenses can be kept under $2,000.
“It just really puts into perspective how little some people are making, compared to how much things like housing actually cost,” said Mozes. “Even with affordable [options], and programs that have done a fantastic job housing so many employees, it’s still out of reach for people.”
With the disparity between wages and affordability clearly laid out in the Vital Signs report, what are Whistler’s next steps?
“I don’t have an answer,” said Mozes. “We don’t create programs out of this document, but it is definitely our hope that it calls for some conversation at different levels … whether it’s local or provincial or even federal, potentially, there’s an opportunity to look at some of these stats and think about people’s lived experience and then try to come up with some solutions, or at least continue to support things that are working, or move away from things that aren’t working as well as possible.
“There’s no magic answer in here, that’s for sure.”
That said, the Vital Signs report does help identify some of the bigger issues impacting Whistler’s community, which will in turn factor in when the WCF decides where to direct its funding, Mozes explained.
With the WCF now accepting applications for its spring grant cycle, “we’re hoping that non-profits and charities do use this [report] as a tool to see if there’s some programming that they’re already doing, or if there’s some programming that they could be doing that would help support and impact the community’s well-being in a positive way,” she said.
Find this year’s Vital Signs report at whistlerfoundation.com/work/vital-signs.