RMOW presents plans to tackle resident affordability 

Public gets chance to comment on Whistler 2020 Affordability Strategy

It comes as no surprise Whistler residents are spending more of their income on housing and food and recreation compared to people in the rest of Canada.

On average Whistler residents spend 28 per cent of their household income on housing, compared to a Canadian average of 17 per cent.

They spend 14 per cent on food, whereas Canadians elsewhere spend 10 per cent.

Whistlerites spend nine per cent on recreation and leisure, whereas the rest of the country spends five per cent.

At least, that's the findings from the data collected by a diverse cross section of community members who were part of the municipality's Resident Affordability Task Force.

Armed with that data, the task force has detailed a comprehensive resident affordability strategy, just one of the 16 strategies that make up Whistler 2020, which highlights Whistler's affordability challenges and presents ways to deal with them.

The draft strategy, the first one in Whistler 2020 to be completed as a pilot project, was presented to council on Monday night.

Included in the strategy are not only the challenges Whistler faces when it comes to affordability for residents but also the action plans to tackle the problem with community partners. It does not deal with housing at all because there is a separate strategy dedicated to resident housing challenges.

Council, for the most part, was pleased with the results and praised not only staff but also the members of the public who helped develop the strategy.

And yet, Councillor Ken Melamed was left feeling that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

"I still have the feeling there's so much more we can do," he said.

The high priority actions listed in the strategy tackle a number of different areas of affordability, from food to transportation, childcare services and recreation. For example they suggest the municipality take a lead role in exploring opportunities to provide financial incentives to local grocery stores so that they can keep the cost of basic food items comparable to a Lower Mainland benchmark.

They suggest the Whistler Community Services Society take a lead role in expanding the Re-Use-It Centre, Whistler's second hand store, with an outdoor covered area to handle building materials and other items not currently offered at the centre.

Another action plan calls for the Whistler Chamber of Commerce to expand and strengthen the Whistler Card, a discount card for locals, to provide true and meaningful discounts to residents.

The strategy also calls for partners like the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association to take a lead role in developing a bike exchange program in the village, much like the bike exchange program in Function Junction, which was spearheaded by Slope Side Supply. This would allow people to use free bikes in the village to run errands.

The recommended actions have yet to be approved by any of the resort partners.

Council did not get into the finer details of the draft strategy at Monday's meeting but they did have a few comments about the action plans. Councillor Gordon McKeever questioned what kind of financial incentives the municipality could offer grocery stores to keep their costs down.

"This isn't the time to nit pick at certain elements," he added.

Councillor Marianne Wade said the report highlighted a number of key issues for her, particularly around the affordability of rents in Whistler.

The report can be downloaded from the municipal website at www.whistler.ca . Go to sustainability, followed by Whistler 2020, followed by Strategy.

The public will get a chance to comment on the strategy at a public open house on Monday, April 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. in Council Chambers.

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