Gauging satisfaction in Whistler 

Community Life Survey highlights ongoing struggles with housing, affordability

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JUSTA JESKOVA/WWW.THECANADIANPHOTOGRAPHYCO.COM - SUMMER SATISFACTION Whistlerites and second homeonwers are more than satisfied with the resort's recreational offerings, but are starting to feel the strain of affordability issues.
  • PHOTO By Justa Jeskova/www.thecanadianphotographyco.com
  • SUMMER SATISFACTION Whistlerites and second homeonwers are more than satisfied with the resort's recreational offerings, but are starting to feel the strain of affordability issues.

While Whistler has enjoyed several years of success marked by increased visitation and ever-inflating tourism revenue, the corresponding rise in cost of living and lack of affordable housing continue to take their toll on the community at large.

"Some of the implications of the success ... we've talked about quite a lot: housing, affordability, traffic congestion, parking, and the ever-evolving resort characteristics. Those are things we're very aware of, and we're working on those," said Chief Administrative Office Mike Furey, in presenting the 2018 Corporate Plan and Community Life Survey (CLS) findings at the June 5 council meeting.

For the second straight year, overall satisfaction with life in Whistler decreased, according to the CLS (conducted by Forum Research Inc.).

While 88 per cent of permanent residents said they were either "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with Whistler as a place to live, the number of those who said they were very satisfied fell 16 percentage points, from 61 per cent last year to just 47 per cent in 2018.

For the most part, the results were positive.

Highest satisfaction ratings among permanent residents were recorded for access to recreation trails (97 per cent), opportunities for recreational activities (96 per cent) and ability to get around by bike or on foot (94 per cent).

The lowest ratings were found on access to learning opportunities (42 per cent), ability to travel to and from Whistler on Highway 99 (64 per cent) and ability to get around Whistler by personal vehicle (69 per cent).

There were no significant increases in satisfaction levels in any area.

Unsurprisingly, permanent residents listed housing as the most important issue facing the community (57 per cent), followed by transportation (16 per cent, down from 26 per cent in 2017).

Among second homeowners, 92 per cent of respondents said they are satisfied with Whistler as a place to spend time, with the majority (60 per cent) saying they are very satisfied.

Find the full results at www.whistler.ca/stay-connected/surveys.

AFFORDABILITY CHALLENGES TAKE THEIR TOLL

Whistler's frontline for those facing challenges is often the team at the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS), which hosted 2,124 face-to-face visits in 2016-17, and only slightly fewer in the last fiscal year, said new executive director Jackie Dickinson said.

"Although our numbers dipped a little bit, what we did feel over the last year is that people are coming in with much more complex needs, and higher concern and risks around mental health issues," Dickinson said, adding that the second most common reason for people seeking help is financial.

"I would suggest the two are very strongly linked to one another when we look at mental health issues."

And while WCSS has a perception in the community as being a youth outreach centre, the average age of its clients is 40, Dickinson said.

"That's something I really like to share with people, because I think it's important to let people know that," she said.

"We always have this discussion about aging in place, and I think it's important to know that this demographic and this group of people appear to us, from the clients who are walking through our doors, to be the most at-risk."

The reason for the slight decline (about 10 or 12 fewer people) may be that people have had to look elsewhere for housing, Dickinson said, adding that 75 per cent of people coming through the doors are couch surfing, living in their car or have otherwise precarious housing situations.

While low wages and access to affordable housing are problems province-wide, a disproportionate amount of Whistlerites of all ages are living in (often wildly expensive) shared accommodations—a detriment to mental health, Dickinson said.

"So if you're asking me what I think as a community we can be doing better, it's really taking a better look at cost (and) what it costs to live here, and especially this younger demographic that really speaks to the future of Whistler," she said.

"If we can't provide safe, affordable housing in this community, we all lose."

Find more resources at www.mywcss.org.

PDF Local Transit Services
Community Life Survey

SENIORS SATISFIED, PROVIDED THEY HAVE HOUSING, DOCTORS

For Whistler's seniors, categorized as 55 and over, there isn't a sense of slipping satisfaction for the most part, said Stacey Murl, chair of the Mature Action Community (MAC) society.

"Not among the people who have secure accommodation. If you have your own place and you're not concerned about that being sold out from underneath you, then you're in a better position ... the seniors that live here, we have very active lives," Murl said.

But just like many other members of the community, seniors living in suites have found themselves without a home when the owners abruptly decided to sell.

When living on a fixed income, that often means they're forced to leave.

"People think that because we live in Whistler, that all seniors have a ton of money, which is not true," Murl said.

"Most of us, if we are retired, are living on some kind of fixed income, whether it's fixed at a barely sustainable level or a little higher than that."

While a new seniors building under construction in Rainbow will help, the demand outweighs the supply.

"There's only 20 units, and we know already that we have at least 30 seniors interested in those units," Murl said.

And those who do find a way to stay in Whistler are finding decreasing access to healthcare, as doctors, too, are being forced out.

It's now very common for seniors to have to drive to Squamish or Pemberton to find a family physician, Murl said.

"You just can't get a doctor now ... you can find somebody who will see you if you've got some horrible thing happening to you, but to see a regular doctor is difficult, so we have to go to Squamish," she said, adding that it's important for people of all ages to have a doctor that's familiar with them.

"You need to have a doctor that recognizes that you have an issue."

It would also be helpful to have a dedicated minibus to call on for health visits, Murl noted, for both seniors and those who are injured.

"I know there is an expense involved in running any kind of transit service, (but) this is something that would help," she said.

Head to www.whistlermac.org for more.

PDF Health and Medical Services
Community Life Survey

SECOND HOMEOWNERS WATCH FROM AFAR

While second homeowners were generally more satisfied with Whistler as a place to spend time, and also found the greatest satisfaction in access to recreational opportunities, the lowest satisfaction ratings were recorded for ability to get around Whistler by car (65 per cent, down from 68 per cent in 2017).

Lynda Sellmer said she and her husband were ski patrollers when Whistler first opened, and have owned in the community since building a cabin in the mid '70s.

"So we've seen an awful lot of changes, and most of them good," Sellmer said.

"It's a beautiful place to come and visit, but of course, with that, a lot of people come and visit, and so I'm echoing other peoples' concerns about the road and the parking for sure."

But there's another sticking point.

"We're not happy with Vail (Resorts)," Sellmer said. "And the reason we're not happy with Vail is because it's all numbers, and I would far sooner wait in a lineup and enjoy a ski run than wait in no lineup and find everybody out on the hill. So definitely nothing positive there for us."

The ongoing struggles with housing and affordability, resulting in understaffing resort-wide, have also led to decreased service levels both on the mountain and in village restaurants, Sellmer said.

"Things change and we're getting older, and I just tell myself we've probably seen the best years up there, and the people that are growing up now won't know how good it was," she said with a laugh.

"But it makes me sad. It really does."

CHECKING THE 'VITAL SIGNS'

At the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW), survey results and statistics are being compiled ahead of the publication of the 2018 Vital Signs report in October, which measures how residents feel about their community.

While it's still premature, the early findings jive with what the CFOW has been hearing in the resort, said executive director Carol Coffey.

Having a strong sense of community and belonging is important for everyone, and the transient nature of Whistler can leave many high and dry, Coffey said.

"The concern is when people leave, you are losing that support network, that home away from home," she said.

"And because the community is growing, I think what we're probably going to start to see is more of a strain on our healthcare services. Are we going to be able to meet the needs of a population that's starting to change?"

In terms of the CLS, Coffey said she thinks some of the dissatisfaction comes from concerns over growth in visitation, and related impacts to everyday life and the surrounding environment.

"So there is concern with making sure that we have a balance between this growth and protecting our natural environment, as well as just that local community and that sense of community that has always been quite strong in Whistler," she said.

"But people are starting to feel that they're no longer being heard."

As for reversing the trend, Coffey said the CFOW sees strengthening community connections as a fundamental aspect of improving life.

"So making sure people know their neighbours and do things with their neighbours, and it's also really important from an emergency social services point of view," Coffey said.

"Showing compassion and understanding for others in the community, and just reaching out and getting to know other people, is what really makes a community strong."

The CFOW and Whistler Centre for Sustainability are offering small grants for neighbours looking to organize community activities through the Resilient Streets program. Find more info at www.whistlercentre.ca.

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