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Cost of living rising, environment protection declining

Latest statistics from the Whistler 2020 report paint clearer picture of community

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Whistler is less affordable than ever.

According to this year's Whistler 2020 Monitoring Report, more than eight in 10 seasonal workers had incomes lower than the cost of living in 2008. And a third of permanent residents also earned less than they needed.

These numbers are up from pervious years, with around 70 per cent of seasonal workers and 21 per cent of permanent residents racing such difficult financials situations in 2006 and 2007.

Dan Wilson, tourism business and monitoring specialist for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, said that when seasonal workers were asked whether they were choosing to earn so little, about 50 per cent said their low incomes were voluntary in 2007, a drop from almost 40 per cent in 2006.

Housing, recreation and food were the biggest drains on residents' income, said Wilson.

Wilson presented the Whistler 2020 Monitoring Report to council at last week's public meeting. The Whistler Centre for Sustainability, through Whistler 2020, monitors the community's performance on behalf of the municipality. Similar studies have been conducted within Whistler since 1994.

The monitoring report, combined with the municipality's 2009 Community Life Tracking Survey, captures information about the Whistler community and gauges public opinion on current policies and policy options.

The tracking survey, conducted by Vancouver-based Mustel Group, also found that housing takes up the biggest chunk of residents' wages.

Seven in 10 seasonal residents spent more than a third of their income on housing, and almost half of seasonal residents spent more than 40 per cent, according to the Mustel Group study. Moreover, almost a third of permanent residents spent more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter; one in five permanent residents spent more than 40 per cent.

The Whistler 2020 monitoring report also showed that visitor satisfaction is up in the winter, but down for the fourth year in a row in the summer months. Tourism Whistler is puzzled by these results, said Wilson, and they will be following up with visitors to try and find out why summer satisfaction is down.

And despite Whistler's push in recent years to become more environmentally friendly, Wilson said the study showed more work may need to be done. The "protecting the environment" section of the report showed by far the most negative results, with the community's material use, water use, energy use and development footprint all trending away from Whistler's goals.

The three-year average amount of materials used in Whistler increased from 2007 to 2008 by 3.5 per cent, the study showed. The development footprint in Whistler has increased on a three-year average trend by two per cent between 2007 and 2008. And energy use increased on a three-year average to 2008 by 1.5 per cent.

Wilson also said that Whistler residents are using more water than the average Canadian. People in Whistler go through 575 litres a day per person, compared to the Canadian national average of 335 litres per person per day. This is one of the highest water usage rates recorded in Whistler in the past 10 years. The study did not examine why water use was so high, said Wilson.

The Whistler 2020 Monitoring Report results did not only spell out bad news, however. Residents reported overall satisfaction with Whistler as a place to live, the recreational opportunities, local learning opportunities, and their health.

The number of people with jobs in Whistler who actually live in Whistler has gone up as well, to 79 per cent, which exceeds the Whistler 2020 target of 75 per cent.

The monitoring report is available at www.whistler20202.ca .

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