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RMOW tackles top priority with resident affordability strategy

First of 16 strategies to come out of CSP

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Councillor Ken Melamed didn’t mince words on Monday night when he said "affordability" has been at the top of council’s agenda for so long now that it’s getting old.

But with the new Resident Affordability Strategy on the horizon, Melamed said it’s now encouraging to see a solid plan underway to deal with resident affordability issues in Whistler.

At Monday’s council meeting municipal Sustainability Co-ordinator Shannon Gordon presented the details of the strategy.

The goal she said is to make Whistler more affordable for residents, as well as employees coming in from Squamish and Pemberton, in order to meet their needs and enjoy the lifestyle that they came here for in the first place.

The RAS is the first of the 16 strategies to flow out of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, the municipality’s overarching planning document for the next 16 years.

"It’s basically the first one that we’re about to embark on of the 16 that are in the CSP but that’s not to say that the other won’t follow pretty closely," said Gordon after the council meeting.

"(Resident affordability) has been a priority for a while."

Council members earmarked "affordability" as one of their top five priorities in 2003 just after they took office.

It was then reaffirmed once again as one of council’s three key deliverables in the 2004 budget.

Now the RAS will look at key parts of Whistler life that affect affordability for people living in the resort. This includes things like transportation, parking, recreation, food and entertainment.

Gordon explained that the strategy is primarily about enriching community life.

It will expand on affordability programs that are already in place such as the Food Bank, the Whistler Card and the Whistler Spirit Program.

Melamed praised the narrowed scope of the strategy with its clear terms of reference.

The RAS will not tackle issues like housing, which will be addressed in the CSP’s Resident Housing Strategy.

Nor will it deal with property taxes and alternative funding sources, which will be addressed in the municipal Financial Strategy.

And commercial or local business affordability will be addressed in the CSP’s Economic Strategy.

All of these strategies will be rolled out at a later date.

"Really the objective here was to make the (resident) affordability strategy more manageable," explained Gordon.

Gordon is working to establish a task force that will likely include representation from Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb, the Chamber of Commerce and Whistler Community Services Society, among others. Councillor Caroline Lamont will sit on the task force as the council representative.

Members of these organizations initially came together to develop the foundation of this strategy in the draft CSP.

The group brainstormed a number of potential actions for an affordability strategy including:

• expanding the Re-Use-It Centre to accept more volume including construction and demolition waste like old sinks, windows and furniture;

• increasing the affordability of Whistler’s recreation activities;

• lowering energy prices for residents through municipal rebates and;

• implementing a more formal expanded volunteer program in exchange for goods and services.

These actions and others will now be explored in greater detail.

The RAS is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

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