Pique n' Your Interest 

Time to look after our seniors

If you think you've been waiting a long time for employee housing in Whistler, there are some people in town who have been waiting even longer.

Whistler's seniors – they've been waiting for more than 10 years.

But at long last it looks like something is finally happening. At long last.

A recent RMOW staff report says discussions are ongoing among muni staff and the development community to put seniors housing on the Rainbow lands, between Alpine and Emerald, and on the Holborn lands at the tennis club.

The future looks more promising for seniors than it ever has before.

Without a doubt, it's high time Whistler started looking after its aging population. I think they've waited long enough.

I never thought I would care this much about a retirement community but it's a topic close to my heart.

When I arrived in Whistler ready to interview pro snowboarders, cover the best party scene in Canada and write about backcountry adventures, one of my first assignments was about seniors housing. I was charged with finding out "what's new on the seniors housing front."

As you can imagine, this was not the assignment I’d been dreaming about on the long drive across Canada from Toronto.

But off I went to interview the mayor and members of the Mature Action Committee, the group lobbying for housing.

I quickly lost control of that first interview as the conversation turned to bed units, land banks and 2010 legacies. What can I say? I was green and in my own defense, Whistler has a ridiculous lingo unto itself.

MAC members saw the glazed and dazed look in my eyes and invited me round to one of their homes for a MAC Board of Directors meeting. Again, this was not the way I envisioned spending my nights in Whistler on the long drive across Canada.

But as it turned out, it was the best way to understand the plight of Whistler's seniors. And let's face it, there's nothing better than doing your research for a story in a comfortable home over a cup of tea and cookies.

Here they were living in a community, volunteering in a community, making this a more vibrant and colourful place to live, and yet, in their twilight years there was no place for seniors to come together and "age in place." There was no retirement community, a place where they could look after each other and in turn, be looked after.

After lobbying for housing for almost a decade, some had given up hope and moved away to other communities. Whistler didn't seem to care.

The excuse – it was difficult to find a suitable housing site, the cost of land being what it is in Whistler.

It seemed to me that Whistler was in danger of losing a seniors population altogether, and what a poorer community we would be if that happened.

It's been more than three years since that first interview with MAC.

In that time I've seen seniors take part in the Whistler, It's Our Future process, lobbying their case as the muni developed a sustainability plan for the future. I've seen seniors work with the Whistler Housing Authority to get $20,000 from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation towards the creation of a seniors housing project.

And I've seen distraught seniors sell their home and move to a retirement community in the city.

Despite tireless efforts, nothing tangible has happened, even though everyone agrees seniors are a vital part of our community.

And then two months ago a letter from MAC was sent to council in which they were reminded of their commitment to take a lead role in the seniors housing initiative.

The letter said: "MAC, on behalf of the seniors of Whistler, is requesting that Council and Staff deliver on those commitments of one year ago on an urgent basis. The RMOW agreed to take on the lead role: that leadership and action are now long overdue."

It was perhaps the spark that lit the fire under the muni's backsides.

Whatever the reason, seniors are back on the radar screen. At long last.

Whistler has a responsibility to provide housing to its seniors, whether it's a mix of rental or ownership, market or employee housing.

For the first time in a decade, there are promising sites on the table.

Let's not drop the ball now.

I started following this story three years ago; that seems like a lifetime to me now. I can't imagine how long this journey has seemed for some of Whistler's seniors.

It's simply been too long.

There will be a MAC Annual General Meeting on April 7.

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