Our seams are showing 

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There is an inescapable truth about Whistler — and I'm not talking about its natural breathtaking beauty in weeks like these where the sun beams down all day, the lake water is clear and inviting, and the radiant moon makes nighttime strolls a must.

I'm talking about the fact that, as a community, we are straining against the seams of self-imposed boundaries.

We joke about the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the roads pretty well all year round, the challenge of finding a parking space in the village, the infrequency of transit into neighbourhoods, childcare, heck even the planning that has to go into heading out for a meal.

But under the comic relief sought in these comments is a sliver of truth about the growing frustration of actually trying to make a life here.

Add to this the very real issues of traffic congestion, affordable housing, the growing amount of garbage being left in our wilderness areas, the sheer busyness of our town, and one wonders when a seam is actually going to burst.

It is interesting to note that reports from major stakeholders in town — the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), the Chamber of Commerce, the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) and the Communities That Care group — all reflect similar findings, though from different perspectives.

Perhaps it would be a good exercise for all the reports to be considered together with the main conclusions and actions of each forming at least the skeleton of a plan going forward.

Affordable housing still seems to be one of the top issues for the resort, according to the reports. Though it must be pointed out in the WHA Employer Housing Needs Assessment (2015) housing came second to a transient workforce as the main issue behind businesses getting and retaining staff.

And it is interesting to note that in the just-released Communities That Care report, though 34 per cent of the 829 young adults who completed the survey were living in staff housing that, "A statistical significance test was conducted to determine if respondents' satisfaction with housing differed by type of housing.

"The results found that respondents who do not live in staff housing were significantly more satisfied with their housing situation than were respondents who do live in staff housing."

That same report found that, "When it comes to affordability, housing seems to be of major concern to Whistler's young adults."

It must be noted though that most of those surveyed in this report were satisfied with their housing.

There can be little argument that the decision made by the RMOW to house at least 75 per cent of the workers in Whistler was a great goal and we have surpassed it now with closer to 80 per cent living here. Having people live and play where they work gives Whistler a vibe like no other town.

So how is Whistler going to deal with the growth that is coming (whether we want and support the growth is another future column)? If we are getting busier and busier, and we know we are since the RMOW's recent Economic Planning Report tells us that total unique visitors to Whistler are up 2.2 per cent to 2.72 million, that total visitor days in Whistler are up 4.3 per cent to 5.6 million that the average daily population of Whistler is up 2.5 per cent to 30,344, we cannot escape the fact that we will need more workers.

(And let's not forget the number of workers will go up again if WB's Renaissance project goes ahead)

Workers won't come if they can't find a decent place to live. And please don't bring up this ridiculous idea that "back in the day" we all lived in the woods and put up with who knows what for the privilege of living here and look how great it all turned out.

Whistler isn't trying to haze its workers — it's offering a sophisticated and authentic product to millions of visitors, and the young people who come here and make that a reality need affordable shelter to help the resort municipality continue to find success.

It's time for the stakeholders to hold a community forum on housing. Let's get the WHA's board — Mike Furey, John Grills, Jack Crompton, Jen Ford, Colin Pitt-Taylor (resident housing rep), Bob Calladine (seniors housing rep), Brian Good (WB), Michael Hutchison (development experience), and Jon Decaigny (finance experience) to help the community brainstorm.

This is not an RMOW/WHA problem to solve — this will take residents, businesses, the accommodation sector, WB — all of us working together to address it.


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