RMOW to review seniors housing recommendations 

The Seniors Housing Task Force has found there is an immediate need for seniors housing in Whistler and suggested a housing complex must be built within the next five years.

‘The timing is now," stressed Gord Leidal, one of the 11 community members who made up the task force.

"It’s considered urgent. For some of our seniors it’s already too late."

Leidal presented the findings of the task force to council on Monday night.

Over the course of five weeks the group came up with a number of recommendations designed to pave the way for a future seniors housing development.

The focus on the housing complex will be to provide homes, and eventually assisted living, for long-term residents who have lived or worked in the community over a significant period of time.

"We are visualizing an exclusive community here and by that I mean one that is only available to long term Whistler residents," said Leidal.

Ideally the task force would like to see a complex which would be a mixture of townhouse and apartment style units. It would have a number of shared amenities like guest accommodations and storage facilities for bikes and skis "so (the seniors) can continue to be young at heart" Leidal joked.

Preferably it would be located within walking distance to the village amenities and have links to public transit and the Valley Trail.

The task force envisions one site for the seniors complex, which would give them a self-contained community where they could support each other.

They proposed that the complex be built in phases.

At first it could accommodate the active and independent seniors. Over time an assisted living component could be added to the site so that the seniors can "age in place."

This has long been the catchphrase of members of the Mature Action Committee, who have been campaigning for ten long years to get seniors housing in Whistler.

Within that MAC membership alone there is a demand for about 20 units in the next five years. That number is projected to more than double in ten years.

Many of those MAC members are also looking for market units as they downsize and sell their Whistler homes to move into a seniors housing development.

But as Whistler’s population ages, there are indications there will be more of a demand for restricted housing.

The task force has recommended to council that the complex includes both a mixture of restricted and market housing.

In order to build it the task force has suggested council consider allocating some of the existing "floating" bed units to seniors housing. This is their creative way to build seniors housing without burdening the taxpayers in the resort.

"Floating" bed units are units that were once assigned to a property but did not get used in development. They are within Whistler’s bed unit cap.

Leidal said the bed units could entice developers to build market housing which in turn would pay for the restricted component of the project.

Councillor Ken Melamed balked at the idea of using any "floating" bed units to develop the project.

"We can do a seniors project within the existing parameters without breaking the rules," he said.

He supported the idea of a restricted housing complex without any market units.

Councillor Marianne Wade, who chaired the task force meetings, explained why the group was keen to have both market and restricted in their complex.

"It’s important to have choice within the community," she said, adding that some people can afford more and would like to have that choice.

The market units would not be restricted by price but would have a covenant placed on them to ensure they are only resold to seniors.

Wade said Whistler was embarking on a "new frontier" with this discussion of seniors housing.

"When Whistler was conceived we were young and vibrant," she said, adding that as the resort matures planners must consider aging in place.

The numbers point to an aging population in the resort.

The number of people over 65 years old has increased 125 per cent over a recent five-year period.

In 1996 there were 100 people in that age category. By 2001 there were 225. The population in the age group from 55-64 also increased more than 100 per cent.

The task force has determined that 55 years old qualifies someone as a senior and though council commented that seemed young in Whistler, it’s consistent with the national standards.

For Leidal the recommendations represent a major step forward for MAC who have been stymied in their efforts to find a suitable site for developing a seniors complex.

He said: "We think this is an amazing milestone and we’re looking forward to what’s going to come out it."

The task force has asked council to identify a site or sites for seniors housing through the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan.

Now the recommendations will now go back to municipal staff for review.

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