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'The million-dollar question'

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Housing and affordability considered to be Whistler’s biggest problems

Housing and affordability are the major stumbling blocks in Whistler’s search for social sustainability, say two municipal managers.

Whistler Housing Authority general manger Rick Staehli told Pique Newsmagazine that the average Whistler resident spends one-half of his or her gross income on housing, while the national average is one-third.

"The million-dollar question is ‘How much of a person’s income can go to shelter?’" he said rhetorically.

According to Staehli, the municipality’s self-imposed cap of 54,000 bed units is to blame.

"It’s driving prices through the roof," he said in an interview earlier this week.

Other affordability issues – ranging from the price of gas to groceries – also have an effect on the resort’s social sustainability and quality of life for its year-round residents.

"There’s no doubt that there are a number of issues related to Whistler being a resort community," said Resort Municipality of Whistler community services manager Bob Kusch. "It’s very clear that our main industry is tourism and we rely heavily upon it.

"The high cost of living here is directly related to the tourism industry."

According to the National Post , the most expensive houses on the real-estate market in Canada are located here in this mountain valley.

The country’s top residential sale last year was a $7.9-million Whistler property, which was purchased by an out-of-town buyer.

Some empty lots are priced at $2-million, and the average house built on those lots is expected to sell for $5-million to $6-million.

In recent months Whistler’s problems have also grabbed the attention of Maclean’s magazine and the Globe and Mail .

Earlier this year Maclean’s columnist Allan Fotheringham, one of Canada’s pre-eminent cultural commentators, wrote that "the bloom is off the rose" at Whistler.

"A town that has 9,600 permanent residents and tries to milk 45,000 (tourists) over the holidays has stretched itself too thin."

But Fotheringham says "the real sadness of Whistler is the Yellow Pages." Whistler’s phone book – which includes Squamish and Pemberton – only contains 79 pages of residential listings, compared to 478 pages of business listings.

In the Yellow Pages are 35 real-estate companies, consultants and appraisers; more than 20 bars, nightclubs, lounges and pubs; six security guard and patrol services; and, as Fotheringham notes, 10 towing companies.

Globe and Mail columnist John MacLachlan Gray wrote early in the new year that Whistler is "an extended shopping mall designed in what I would term Disney Alp" and is as exclusive as a "gated community."

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