The "build it and they will come" motto is not a surefire way to approach seniors housing in Whistler, so the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) is reaching out to residents over the age of 50 for feedback about future development.
Currently on the table is Rainbow Lot 10, a parcel of land zoned for seniors' restricted housing (SRH) owned by the Resort Municipality of Whistler. WHA is asking for public input to confirm buyer demand for the project, which has the potential for 20 units for seniors in compliance with RMOW's commitment to help residents age in place. Relevant data being sought includes a general sense of price expectation, unit size and design.
"We just thought before we take any preliminary steps on planning design, we wanted to canvas the seniors housing community to see what type of demand there is for this kind of housing right now," said WHA general manager, Marla Zucht. "Granted, the occupancy wouldn't be until spring 2012, but we need to start thinking about that a couple of years in advance if we are going to move forward on it."
Lot 10 is one of two lots with designation for seniors' housing in the Rainbow development. Its units will be price capped, with the municipality and WHA striving to keep costs under $350 per square foot during construction. The other is Lot 11, owned by Innovation Building Group. Those 20 seniors' units are expected to be more expensive but will also be built to accommodate the elderly.
Purpose-built seniors housing includes design features such as grab bars in washrooms, few stairs, and strategic layout. It also encourages community growth, mitigating the risk of isolation for retirees who may have previously lived in sparsely populated vacation rental neighbourhoods.
"It's something we've identified as a need for the community, because Whistler doesn't have any designated seniors' housing yet that has been built for that purpose," continued Zucht. "We're recognizing that we want to be able to move our employees and retirees through the restricted housing inventory so when you and I retire we have something to go into."
Between the Rainbow, Cheakamus Crossing, and Holborn developments, 84 units have been allocated for seniors' housing within municipal boundaries but that doesn't mean that many units will be built. When the WHA designated 24 seniors housing units at Cheakamus Crossing, fewer than half ended up selling to seniors. Those same units will retain their designation, though, and as they come up for resale seniors will be given first right of refusal.
Despite the numbers at Cheakamus, Mature Action Committee (MAC) former president and WHA board member Gord Leidal says the demand is building and without forethought the municipality will lose valuable citizens.
"Over the years we have seen many seniors leave Whistler simply because there wasn't suitable accommodation and support services for them," he said.
Leidal added that encouraging seniors to realistically assess their living situations from a physical and fiscal point of view can be difficult unless triggered by a major life shift like the loss of a partner.
"As they get older many seniors have to withdraw equity from their housing in order to meet their other needs, but they do tend to put it off for as long as possible so that's the challenge - you build something and put 20 units on the market and it's not easy to find 20 seniors to jump into it right away on that particular date.
When seniors pass on seniors-restricted housing it is offered to qualified housing restricted applicants on a WHA waitlist with a priority given to mature age groups.
If the survey, which wraps up on Nov. 30, shows insignificant demand for housing on Lot 10 the municipality could reduce the number of seniors-restricted units and proceed with other types of housing. Leidel hopes they maximize its capacity and build all 20.
"I'm sure in the very long term there will be the need for even more than that and the municipality has a big land bank down at Cheakamus Crossing so there is certainly a good opportunity to build more seniors housing down there in the future," he said.
To fill out the survey, go to www.surveymonkey.com/s/HN7S53N or call the WHA at 604-905-4688.