Whistler's only seniors group, the Mature Action Community Society (MACS), is discussing pushing for a possible relaxation of the Whistler Housing Authority's application guidelines to better fit the needs of the resort's aging population.
At its annual general meeting last Tuesday, March 22, the non-profit's appointee to the WHA board, Bob Calladine, spoke about the need to upgrade the resident-restricted ownership housing standards for seniors.
"The WHA has this one-size-fits-all criteria that doesn't actually really apply to all of us seniors," he said. "What we're trying to do is get a discretionary relaxing of some of this criteria."
Currently, the 194 members of MACS are eligible for placement on the Seniors Resident Housing Waitlist, giving them priority access to WHA seniors designated housing. Seniors can also be placed on the WHA's regular employee housing list if they work a minimum of 20 hours a week in the community or have worked five of the last six years in Whistler prior to ceasing employment. Anyone applying to the employee waitlist is considered ineligible if they already own market housing — something MACS is hoping to amend.
"WHA guidelines insist that if you come into their system, they will want you to sell your home within six months, as that is standard fare," Calladine said. "It's little idiosyncrasies like this where (the WHA) is saying, 'We want you to sell your home,' but at the same time if this is your actual means of support, we've got to take that into account.
"One shoe doesn't fit all. We as seniors have, on a financial basis, managed to survive and we're now getting ready to retire or are retired, so other considerations come in. The WHA waiting list for both rental and ownership are quite often young families, so they really have different criteria, so that's what we're trying to work on."
In a follow-up email, Calladine said it's fair that seniors would have to sell their primary residence in order to meet WHA's guidelines, "but not necessarily their income-producing properties if they were, indeed, part of a financial portfolio accrued under their lifetime of work."
Currently there are 24 units designated for seniors in Cheakamus Crossing, of which around half are currently occupied by seniors, according to the WHA. There are another 20 units designated for seniors at Solana, as well as undeveloped sites at Rainbow (Lot 10) and Holborn, which are also earmarked for future seniors housing.
While WHA general manager Marla Zucht said the housing authority has been working with MACS since 2007 to specifically refine the eligibility requirements for seniors housing, it's unlikely any changes will be made to the WHA's employee housing guidelines.
"We haven't discussed relaxing that (criteria) at all, so I don't think that that actually would occur," she noted. "The regular employee housing product, we know there's already a shortage of it as far as employees in the community that are also looking to get into housing and haven't had the ability to get into the marketplace, so this is their only product available."
The good news is the WHA continues to explore a housing development that would be specifically tailored to seniors.
"(We would like to see) a purpose-built seniors product that would have different housing features than what currently exists in our inventory," she said. "That's something we are definitely still working on as well."
MACS president Stacey Murl is also hopeful the seniors group can find community space to administer programming and host events.
"It would be nice if there was some community space for a seniors' organizations, and also for other organizations. We don't need a seniors' centre where we have it 24-7, but it would be nice if there was a community space and we could have some kind of programming, and also recognition from the municipality that we need that," she said.