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Survey of seniors needed before building Lot 10: Leidal

Mature Action Committee president says size and cost are important considerations



As council grapples with seniors housing at Rainbow, the president of Whistler's Mature Action Committee is pushing to survey the community.

Gord Leidal said the municipality and the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) need to have a clearer picture of exactly how many people plan to move into seniors housing before any decisions are made for Lot 10 at Rainbow.

They also should understand exactly what seniors expect to move into, in terms of size and cost.

"It is important to know those things, and I think they really need to know that before they go out for proposals for building on Lot 10," Leidal said.

Leidal explained the unique thing about seniors housing is that people generally delay moving into it as long as possible, and so it can be a challenge to have a large amount of seniors housing come onto the market all at once.

"It is a graduate thing in terms of people saying, 'I think I am ready to move into seniors housing,'" said Leidal. "It is the thing people put off as long as possible and it is often triggered by some event."

Over the past year, about 44 units of seniors housing have come onto the market, at Cheakamus Crossing and Lot 11 at Rainbow. Of those, seniors have taken only approximately 15.

Another 20 units are expected to be available in the foreseeable future with the municipality's development of Lot 10 at Rainbow, said Leidal. Also, 20 more have been penciled in for the Holborn Development, although that development is currently on the shelf.

"It is a challenge to sell a large amount all at once," said Leidal. "That is partly why you don't have a big pickup and that is why there is an option for the developers to first offer to seniors and then to others, because one way or the other, you have to fill units."

Leidal said that even if most of the senior housing units currently available don't go to seniors right away, they are still a win for the Mature Action Committee.

While both Lot 11 at Rainbow and the Cheakamus Crossing units are now being offered to non-seniors, when they come up for resale they will be first offered to seniors and remain part of the seniors housing inventory.

"The other important thing is they are price capped after the first sale," said Leidal, referring to the WHA's resale value rules. "That means that even though they are not necessarily as affordable as one might like, in the long term, they will be probably more affordable than anything else."

Leidal's comments come in response to the uncertainty surrounding Lot 10.

Six months ago, the municipality voted to take possession of the parcel of land with concerns that developer Rod Nadeau was pricing the units too high for local seniors.

Nadeau withheld turning over Lot 10, hoping down the road he could convince future council members to change their minds. The municipality filed a lawsuit against Nadeau in mid-May and Nadeau announced he would hand over the parcel the following week.

A spokesperson at the municipality confirmed this week that the land has not yet been transferred, but staff expects to receive it "within the next few weeks."

She added that the municipality couldn't discuss the status of the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the mayor said no concrete plans are set for Lot 10 and council may gauge the interest in seniors housing before going ahead with construction.

"We know the Mature Action Committee has been lobbying for housing to meet the needs of their members for many years," said Mayor Ken Melamed. "Council shares their impatience, and yet we are not going to rush ahead based on old assumptions."

Leidal said obviously the delay is disappointing, and the Mature Action Committee will now wait and see how things unravel.

"I think it is pretty much out of our control," he said.

Most of the 280 people involved with the Mature Action Committee aren't necessarily looking for housing right away, he said. But for some seniors in Whistler, it is an urgent need.

"There are people out there who are definitely looking for seniors housing options here in Whistler, and for many of those, I think affordability is an issue," he said.

Marla Zucht, general manager of WHA, agreed that a "needs assessment" for seniors housing should be done before Lot 10 plans are nailed down.

She is also hoping to meet with council this month to discuss the issue in more detail.

"It will be up to council with that they want to do with that site," she said. "Certainly, we will be involved with some of those discussions."



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