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Maxed Out: Who gets to live in Whistler?

'There are a number of 600-pound gorillas in this room'

So many municipal elections ago I can’t remember which one—and I’m too busy to actually look it up—an interested young person, a ski instructor if memory serves, tossed his hat in the ring for a council seat. All was going pretty well for him. He was meeting people, shaking hands, getting his name out there, making inroads.

And then... the all candidates’ meeting happened. Again, things were going pretty well until my good friend and rabble-rousing senior citizen, now deceased, Betty McWhinnie, asked him a question about services for seniors in Whistler.

Not yet out of his 20s, it was a bit like asking a fish what he thought about elephants. A pregnant pause grew more pregnant while he pondered an answer. Then he said something that may have—relying on memory here—included the thought if not the exact words, “Whistler isn’t really a place for seniors.”

Since I’m pretty sure more people in attendance knew Betty than knew him, a hush fell over the crowd, possibly a collective gasp escaped. He immediately sensed he’d probably answered the question incorrectly and began to verbally scramble.

From where I sat, front row, centre, I saw fear in his eyes. But the more he said, the worse things got. I began to mime someone digging a hole from which there was no escape until he finally ran out of steam and time and an air of defeat—prescient—settled heavily over his shoulders.

Needless to say, he failed to get elected.

Truth, in that case, was not a good defence. Whistler wasn’t then a good place for seniors. Whistler then, as now, is a great place for seniors. Some seniors, not all. The ones who are hale and hearty, who enjoy good health and robust constitutions. Who visit a doc once a year to be told how healthy they are. And how lucky. Who can still shovel snow, climb stairs, ski as many days as they are years old, and still have friends who haven’t yet shuffled off this mortal coil. Or at least some of the above.

The others? Still ain’t a place for them. Now that I am one and have seen many depart for senior-friendlier places, I can say that.

Which brings me to the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s (RMOW) vulnerable populations housing needs assessment final report presented to council recently.

Just as the hopeless council wannabe was struck dumb by the proposition there were seniors in Whistler and they may have unmet needs, you may be surprised to contemplate the existence of vulnerable persons living among us. If so, you probably aren’t one. Congratulations.

But if you stick around town long enough, it seems inevitable you may find yourself involved in determining what, if anything, Whistler does to address some of their needs. Or not. Hard to know for sure, since the purpose of the report is to, “identify the existing supply of and community need for emergency, transitional, supportive and non-market rental housing ... not to attempt to provide solutions…”

The solutions, should there be any, will require concerted effort and wide-spread community involvement to both answer and provide. They will go to the crux of and determine what kind of community Whistler will be as it grows further, attracts a wider spectrum of people, and embraces—or fails to embrace—their needs.

So who or what are vulnerable persons? Any person who is, or is perceived to be, in a disadvantaged position or marginalized and, as a result, may experience barriers to housing.

The report uses a continuum of housing and focuses on four categories with the greatest impact on vulnerable persons: emergency; transitional; supportive; and non-market rental housing. For the sake of brevity—the report is 100 pages long—let’s skip non-market rental housing. The RMOW has for many years focused on creating this, at least as far as building employee-restricted housing is concerned. And there seems to be a clear intent to continue building it.

Emergency housing is defined as, “Immediate, short-stay housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.” The only current “housing” that falls within that category is the extreme weather response shelter, a subject about which I have already written too much. The report cites a small, year-round need for this type of housing.

Then there’s transitional housing, a type of housing for residents available for between 30 days and three years. Think women and children fleeing a violent home; a safe house; people in whatever form of crisis who need a place to live while they transition to secure housing.

Supportive housing is, “a type of housing that provides on-site supports and services to residents who cannot live independently.” This includes, for example, older adults and people with disabilities.

In all four categories of housing, the need far outstrips the supply. For example, there is no current transitional housing in Whistler. There is an estimated need for one long-term transition/safe house and looking a decade down the road, perhaps two.

The only supportive housing currently operating in town consists of the rental units run by Zero Ceiling, sufficient to house nine youths at two sites. The current need is pegged at 22 beds for youth and 20 for adults, seniors and people with disabilities. Those numbers run up to 28 for youth and 26 for the others a decade from now.

And while Whistler has a robust and growing non-market rental stock geared towards employees, much more is needed to house those with lower incomes, both now and 10 years hence.

There are a number of 600-pound gorillas in this room. One is where the funds might come from to address any of these housing needs. To date, Whistler has been fortunate to have created the existing stock of employee-restricted housing with minimal taxpayer pressure. But let’s be honest—without employees there is no resort, and without the resort there is no town.

Another gorilla is the sticky issue of who gets to live here. Anyone who wants to, regardless of their ability to make their own way? People who have temporarily fallen on hard times? People who have helped build this town, but have gotten old enough and need help staying?

These are hard questions with no easy answers. They go to the core of what kind of people we believe we are. The answers are too important to be left to a handful of people who make and shape policy. They affect everyone who lives and wants to live here.

So, at the risk of suggesting the impossible, I’m going to say it’s worth your time and effort to read the report and decide for yourself. You can find it on the RMOW’s website,, if you search for vulnerable populations housing, or follow this link: