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Youth need affordable housing if they are to call Whistler home

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Whistler. It’s our Future hears from local young people

They want affordable housing, affordable transportation, and some assurance that the essence of Whistler is being protected.

While there were heated discussions as to how to achieve this 14 youths, who gathered to attend a meeting organized as part of the Whistler. Its Our Future, all agreed that something had to be done to protect the town they had chosen to work and live in.

The meeting was one of several taking place over the months for all segments of the community to discuss the platform which will eventually provide the resort with a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan aimed at tackling environmental, economic and social sustainability.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly opened Tuesday night’s discussions and reiterated the importance of youth taking an interest in the issues surrounding the development of the resort.

"Out of you will come the next generation of councillors and mayors," he told the group munching on free snacks and sipping free beer.

"I think you guys can make Whistler a better place… You are the energy and the excitement we have that they don’t have in places like Aspen.

"We have something incredibly unique in this resort and our success is attacking us now. The question for you is how do we keep the success we have."

With that challenge in mind the youths broke up into work groups. Working with a facilitator each began to dissect what brought them to the resort, what keeps them here, what issues they face in staying here and what can be done to make sure they and others continue to make Whistler their home.

There are many different reasons why youth come to Whistler. It can be as simple as looking for the best ride or skiing around, or as complex as planning a career in the service industry.

But all of those who live here love the recreation the resort provides, its pristine beauty, and its combination of sophisticated services within a small town.

For some though the lifestyle is under threat.

Tourists, the bread and butter of the resort, are making the resort a year round destination.

That means there is no down time for locals to enjoy. The village is always filled with people and the roads are always congested.

"I don’t particularly like Whistler," said Matt Frederickson who has chosen to live in Pemberton.

"It’s Disneyland. It’s too much. You walk down the street in Pemberton and you recognize people. You walk down the street here and it is all tourists."

The popularity of the resort is continuing to drive up real estate prices making owning a family home a dream for most.

"Even though we all work our butts off we still can’t afford to buy in this town we are so proud to live in," said Rob Usher.

"It is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that you can’t afford to live in this town."

Usher and Michelle Harlington also bemoaned the lack of serious mates in the resort and the impact housing issues have when people think of settling down and starting a family.

Harlington’s main concern was the Olympics.

"My main question is how are the Olympics sustainable and how they fit into these issues," she said.

"I also want to be part of the picture, part of creating something so that I can raise my own family here one day.

"I want it to stay pretty much as it is now. I don’t want there to be a four lane highway making us just another suburb of Vancouver.

"I like that you can go out into the bush or go up the chairlift and be totally far away and not see another person. But then I can also go into the village and get a Starbucks coffee.

"I don’t want it to get crazy."

Harlington, who has lived here for five years, was excited to have a chance to get her points of view across but she had some reservations about what would happen next.

"Whether they will take our concerns and move to the next level, well, we will just have to wait and see."

Usher went to the meeting in the hopes of reminding everyone about the importance of keeping a local community in Whistler.

"In order to have an identity you need to have a local population," he said.

"I’m very proud to be here. I see tourism as a necessary evil. The tourists here are giving me my job.

"I want to raise a family here and so we need some realistic housing options and prices for locals.

"There needs to be put in place a system for locals. Say you shop at the IGA you should get a discount if you live here all year ’round.

"Without us there is no Whistler."

All were concerned about the environment and how increasing the number of cars into the resort may well damage the town in the long run.

Most wanted to see more frequent transportation to Pemberton, cheaper transportation to Vancouver, and a concerted effort to get tourists out of cars and into buses and even the train.

Many want a tenant’s advocate put in place in town so that people don’t have to take a day off work to go to Squamish to get someone to help them with rental issues.

When it came to growth, most wanted to cap it. Many were unaware that there already is a cap in place on the number of bed units in the resort.

Most were also unaware of the role of the Whistler Housing Authority in the resort.

All the comments and suggestions were collected by moderators and will become part of the consultation phase.

The consultation phase, or Phase One of the project, is slated to end next month, at which time the consultants will analyze community opinions.

This information will go toward developing different scenarios to tackle sustainability in Whistler.

Ultimately a preferred scenario will be chosen which will then be implemented.