Opinion » Editorial


If any of the candidates for council need an issue to champion, how about the "affordability" of Whistler. We’re not just talking about the price of toilet paper or gasoline, those have always cost more in Whistler than most other places, particularly in Whistler’s early days when the supply of both was unreliable. What we are talking about is even more basic than toilet paper: accommodation and wages. "Affordability" is a subjective term, of course, but it will probably always cost more to live in Whistler than in most other towns in B.C. It’s a personal decision people make, trading off the cost of living in the mountains against the lifestyle Whistler allows. But affordability is going to be an issue for more and more people, including those who wisely or fortunately bought property before Whistler real estate went stratospheric. Lots of those people can afford to continue to own their homes in Whistler as long as they work, but paying taxes on a $600,000 piece of property in retirement is going to be difficult for many. "Affordable" employee housing is a huge component in attempting to keep Whistler affordable, and the Whistler Housing Authority and the present council deserve congratulations for finally getting a handle on this issue. But there will never be more than one-third of the local workforce (permanent and seasonal) in employee housing. Everyone else living in Whistler, whether they rent or own, is subject to market conditions, and the market is going in one direction. Property taxes are based on property assessments, which in turn are influenced by the real estate market, which is being influenced by an international market — people willing to spend millions of dollars on a part time, recreational property. As well, the cap on development, regardless of whether it is real or imagined, is going to driver up property values. The municipality is going to need more revenue, not less, as it gets bigger and has to provide more infrastructure and services to the community. And the municipality is going to have to achieve this as development slows and puts less in the municipal coffers. Where is that money going to come from? Under the current taxation system, whereby municipalities can only generate revenue through property taxes and user fees (the hotel tax is an exception, but Tourism Whistler wants all of that), the municipality has to turn to its citizens to generate more revenue. That suggests it’s only going to become more expensive to live in Whistler. Whistler, of course, has several million visitors each year who use the municipal infrastructure, facilities, parks, etc. Federal and provincial governments get a percentage of every dollar visitors spend in Whistler, but the municipality, at present, has no way to directly tax those people. Another side of the affordability equation is wages in local jobs. Most people are willing to earn less to live here, for a while. But lower wages for equivalent jobs in the city do not mean employers are getting rich through cheap labour. The cost of running a business is also higher in Whistler than in most other places. The market for commercial space has driven rents to absurd levels in some instances. If a business owner is fortunate enough to own his or her premises, they are also faced with high property taxes, Tourism Whistler fees and sales that may fluctuate wildly with the weather and the seasons. Whistler is still considered an affordable vacation destination, by world standards. The Canadian dollar is a large part of that, but also Whistler has never really encouraged or catered to the elite. But more effort needs to be made to keep Whistler affordable for the community of people who live here, whether they are here for a season or permanently. It’s a tough, complex spiral of costs to be addressed, and it needs to be done on a provincial level as well as the local level. And it needs to be addressed at a more fundamental level than discounting the price of recreation centre passes or other "local’s discounts."