Seniors housing gets support from RMOW 

Council approves recommendations to encourage and facilitate seniors housing, but sites still being evaluated

Whistler seniors are a step closer to getting housing in the resort.

On Monday council formally recognized the need for seniors housing and committed to working towards that goal in a series of 12 recommendations.

"I think it was a good day for Whistler seniors," said Gord Leidal, president of the Mature Action Committee, a group committed to bring seniors housing to Whistler.

"Finally there are people working on our behalf," he said.

"This is the biggest step forward we’ve ever had."

Only one recommendation sparked debate at the meeting with three councillors voting against the 55-year-old minimum age requirement for seniors in a Whistler project.

Councillors Nick Davies, Ken Melamed and Caroline Lamont all voted to raise the age requirement to 65 years old. They were concerned that younger candidates could push out older seniors who genuinely need housing.

But Councillor Marianne Wade, who was the chair of the Seniors’ Housing Task Force that generated the recommendations, assured them there would be a screening policy for seniors in the most need.

In addition, the 55-year-old requirement does not exclude potential renters.

"It doesn’t leave you with an empty housing unit that can’t generate rent," said Wade.

In May this year a number of members of the Mature Action Committee were part of the Seniors’ Housing Task Force. They developed a report, which was presented to council in July and ultimately resulted in Monday’s staff recommendations.

The recommendations direct municipal staff to find suitable sites for seniors housing (both market and non-market) within the next year. Staff will also look at developing policy for using municipal bed units to get community amenities, like a resident-restricted seniors housing project.

Bob MacPherson, general manager of planning and development services at the municipality, explained that non-market restricted seniors housing would be treated like other employee housing in that it would not require bed units for development.

MacPherson admitted that developing market seniors housing is a more challenging prospect.

"It is going to be a challenge to find those bed units," he said.

"We’ll explore what’s out there."

He added that the municipality could encourage parties with bed units to use them for seniors housing or encourage developers to build seniors housing as part of an amenities package.

One of recommendations from the task force was to ask the municipality to find innovative ways to deliver seniors housing.

Councillor Kristi Wells said the recommendations were a little broad. She wanted to pick a few to focus on first and then add to them as each gets done.

"It’s about managing expectations," she said.

"A lot of this is a little loose for me."

Still council voted in favour of moving the recommendations forward.

Even Melamed, who prefers to look for alternative solutions to building new housing, supported the recommendations for seniors housing.

"It’s been a challenging one for me," he said.

"As much as I support the concept... (it’s) the notion that every time we get in a jam we build stuff to get out of it."

For the past decade seniors in the community have been working towards getting a seniors housing community where they can "mature-in-place."

The Mature Action Committee (MAC) was struck 10 years ago to help them achieve that goal. Since that time many have left Whistler to go to seniors housing projects elsewhere in the province.

The biggest stumbling block has been trying to find a suitable site close to the village and health care amenities that’s affordable at the same time.

MAC members are hoping a suitable site might come out of a study recently spearheaded by the Whistler Housing Authority. The study, which is evaluating different sites in Whistler for resident housing, will be completed by March 2004.

At a recent luncheon some MAC members met with Barbara Bacon, executive director of the Housing Foundation of B.C. She said it is essential for the seniors to know how many people would be willing to sell their homes and move into seniors housing once it was built.

Speaking from her own experience with a housing project in West Point Grey, Bacon said roughly 30 people expressed an interest in a project and only two actually put the money down when it was built.

MAC, whose members number 88 seniors, among them singles and couples, has already surveyed its members.

Eight would be willing to move in to seniors housing within the next two ears. Thirteen more would move within five years. And 31 would move in 6-10 years.

This year the Whistler Housing Authority applied to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and got a seed funding grant of $20,000. Once a development site has been identified the money will be used to draw up a business plan that includes preliminary concept designs, financials and site analysis for seniors housing.

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