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Cost of living in Whistler increasing, says survey

Permanent and seasonal residents spending more and more money on housing

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Housing is taking a bigger chunk out of Whistler residents’ income, according to a recent survey.

The study, conducted by Vancouver-based Mustel Group, sought responses from both permanent and seasonal residents and found that a rising proportion of people in both groups is spending more than a quarter of their income on housing.

The survey showed that 43 per cent of permanent residents in Whistler are now spending upwards of 30 per cent of their income on housing, compared with 22 per cent in 2006.

It also found that 48 per cent of seasonal residents are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, compared with 41 per cent in 2006. However, the survey notes that seasonal residents were screened for those who are currently working or looking to work in Whistler, unlike an approach used in 2006. The survey does not highlight the differences in methodology between 2006 and 2008.

The results of the survey came as little surprise for Whistler Councillor Gordon McKeever, who also chairs the Whistler Housing Authority’s board of directors. He said housing prices are being driven by a “rebounding economy” in Whistler that is creating additional demand for beds, but added there is also an impact from people preparing for the 2010 Olympic Games.

“There’s no doubt we’re facing a really big challenge over the next couple of years with housing situations,” he said. “There are more people competing for what is essentially a very stable number of beds in the community dedicated to local housing.”

McKeever said that over the past six or seven years the WHA has done surveys of business and employee housing needs and consistently found that there are approximately 10,750 beds in Whistler every year, give or take 250 units.

“It’s a basic equation, supply and demand,” he said. “As demand goes up, the pressure on those stable numbers gets great(er).”

Dan Wilson, reporting and monitoring coordinator for Whistler 2020, said the higher proportion is likely being influenced by rising housing prices. Like McKeever, he said the housing prices could be affected by the current demand.

“The economy is going on all cylinders right now so there’s a need for lots of employees,” he said.

McKeever added that the development of the Rainbow housing project, to be located between Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates, is expected to alleviate the pressure on existing beds, but said delays have increased the pressure on housing prices.

“The Rainbow neighbourhood was meant to be a very big answer to a very big problem,” he said. “We knew we had a thousand more resident beds coming on board with the athletes' village, but there was a clear understanding that we needed more beds prior to that.”

Despite the pressure on existing beds, McKeever expects that problems related to resident housing will be solved after the Olympics.

“As a resort is successful, the price of real estate goes up. And when the price of real estate goes up, it's harder to find a place to live,” he said.

“Whistler has done more to address that problem than any other community in North America. We've created over 4,000 beds of resident-restricted housing, and we currently have 2,000 more in the pipeline.”

The results of the Mustel survey differ somewhat from statistics provided on the Whistler 2020 website. Under the “Residential Housing” heading, a graph shows that 29 per cent of permanent residents were spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing in 2006, seven per cent higher than the numbers provided in the Mustel survey.

The survey also shows an upward trend in residents spending more than 40 per cent of their income on housing, though it is not as high as those spending more than 30 per cent.

Twenty-six per cent of permanent residents were shown to spend more than 40 per cent of their income on housing in 2008, compared with 14 per cent in 2006. Among seasonal residents, 31 per cent reported that they were spending more than 40 per cent of their income on housing in 2008, compared with 30 per cent in 2006.

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