Seniors need land before housing can be built 

Finding affordable land to build seniors housing is the biggest stumbling block for Whistler’s seniors, members of the Mature Action Committee were told at their annual general meeting on Monday night.

Despite that huge challenge they were told to persevere.

"I don’t think the site is going to be served up on a platter," said guest speaker Tim Wake, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority.

"I think we have to go after it."

In the 10 years since its inception MAC has been actively looking for a site that would be suitable for seniors housing. They would prefer land close to the village and its amenities, particularly close to the health care centre, and they need something that’s relatively flat.

The problem is the price.

"We couldn’t find anything that was close to affordable," said MAC member Gord Tomalty.

Wake, as the steward of Whistler’s employee-restricted housing stock, knows about the land pressures first hand.

"We have a pretty simple formula at the housing authority," he said.

"The land has to be free."

Wake presented the group with seniors housing solutions in other resorts.

Banff built their first seniors housing in 1984. It was called Mount Edith House with a total of 34 units. All the units were rental, tied to income and so partially subsidized by the province and the municipality.

Fifteen years later Banff partnered with the Abbeyfield Society, a charity which provides housing with care for older people. This joint project combined some partially assisted living with unassisted living units.

The Abbeyfield Society was also instrumental in getting seniors housing in Golden, B.C. Despite financial challenges in the last decade, when the forestry sector was starting to crumble, Golden managed to get housing for its seniors in 1999.

South of the border in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the first seniors housing project was developed in 1973. At that time, land was donated to the town and 23 units were built complete with an activity centre. In 1990 they built another seniors housing complex, all with one-bedroom units. Those units cost about $500 a month for unassisted living.

Wake urged the MAC members to be encouraged by these positive examples of seniors housing in other communities. But he cautioned that these places have been working towards their goal for a lot longer than Whistler’s MAC.

"First I think we have to recognize that... we’re still early in the process," he said.

"We’re merging into this so we shouldn’t be too impatient that we haven’t come along as far as they have."

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