There’s definitely some relief on the way for what ails Chilliwack — on the housing front and beyond.
That’s the word from Mayor Ken Popove, who sat down for an interview with The Progress, to map out some of the plans and priorities percolating for the first few months in office.
What can Chilliwack expect to see early in the council term?
More than 200 housing units, from subsidized to market rental, are coming online, at various intervals throughout 2019.
“In the first 100 days we will start to see some actual housing units opening up,” Mayor Popove said.
First is an 80-unit affordable housing project on Yale Road opening around late February by Mamele’awt Queesome To’o Housing Society (MQHS), followed by the 36-unit family centre project at Ruth and Naomi’s Mission about a month after that.
So the plan is to work exceptionally hard on the most pressing social issues facing the city, from the non-existent affordable housing, to the plight of the mentally ill and addicted on the streets. Hopefully they will also see the 46-unit modular supportive housing at the old Traders site “well underway” if not done, on the heels of those two other projects.
“And will all that solve the problem? No. But it will certainly help the people who need the help, and want the help,” Popove said.
The “supportive” aspect of the modular projects is significant, he said. The modular facility at the old Traders will be equipped with an ICM team for “wrap-around” support services, to help keep the formerly homeless folks housed, with some First Nations representation on the team as well.
That really matters, the mayor noted, because opening up the lines of communication, and relationship-building with area Indigenous leaders and communities is high on his list.
“There seems to have been a disconnect between the nine bands that touch our borders, and city hall. It’s unfortunate.”
It means he has some gaps to fill, and to find a way to open the dialogue with Sto:lo communities.
“There’s treaty, there’s Truth and Reconciliation, and so many bits and pieces, but at the end of the day it’s all about building relationships. That’s one of my strengths, and one of my goals is to do that,” said Popove.
Another plan is to revisit the city’s Homelessness Action Plan, a document put together a few years ago which has guided the city’s actions and partnerships in that regard.
“I want to go back and check off what we’ve done,” he said. “I know we’ve accomplished a lot with Chilliwack Healthier Community, and the task teams we have attached, and it’s something I’m very, very proud of and will continue to work on.”
He said he knows he’s up against very high expectations. Tackling the problems in Chilliwack streets in collaboration with partners is the key, whether it’s crime, or addictions or mental health.
“The situation may not be solvable, but it’s manageable,” Popove underlined.
There is always pressure on city hall to fix the problem or find a solution, but maybe that’s not entirely realistic, he suggested.
“There’s no silver bullet, and if there was one it would have been shot a long time ago by other communities experiencing what we are experiencing,” Mayor Popove said. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished to this point and it is going to get better.”
One example is the success the Chilliwack Housing Hub is having in finding and securing housing for the homeless, with an estimated 16 people no longer living on the streets.
He will continue to tackle the problems, he pledged, as chair of the Housing First task force and the Healthier Chilliwack Community network of 40+ agencies and service providers.
“I am not stepping off of those files,” Popove said. If he has to step up the intensity, in terms of lobbying and advocacy, he will.
Asked what he thought about City of Surrey’s plan to create a municipal police force and get out of the contract with the RCMP, the mayor wasn’t too keen on the idea for Chilliwack at all.
“I have no intention of going down that road of a municipal police force,” he said. “Do the RCMP need help? Maybe a few more bodies would help, or look at restructuring how we use the resources. Maybe get back to the grassroots with a dedicated foot patrol.”
With a population of 93,000, the growth Chilliwack is experiencing has brought more crime and more social issues, he said, but still there is good reason for optimism, he said.
Big changes, that are highly anticipated by many downtown, are coming in the first six months of 2019.
Mayor Popove points to the massive Five Corners redevelopment project being undertaken by the Algra Bros., and the Paramount Project. The Algra Bros. officially take over ownership of the property some time this month.
That means residents can prepare to see some movement downtown around the end of November, he advised, in terms of security fencing going up for example, in preparation for some of the development.
“We’ve been talking about this for a decade, and finally it is about to happen.”
City Hall watchers may have noticed already that Mayor Popove has his own style of laid-back leadership. He has been actively eschewing some of the more overt symbols of power, like his preference to not be addressed as “your worship,” which had been the mayoral custom for years.
After a few minutes of his inaugural mayor’s address last week, Popove uncharacteristically turned over the microphone to his fellow councillors, to share the spotlight on that night, and offer them a chance to speak.
Another thing is that he won’t be wearing the ceremonial “chain of office” that mayors wear around their necks.
Popove said he checked with senior staff to see if it was mandatory to wear the chain of office for the inauguration ceremony, or for other formal city functions, and he was told it wasn’t.
“I’m not a power guy. For me it all goes back to teamwork. So my choice is not to wear it because I am no different than those other six people sitting around the council table. I only have one vote, and I want to be part of a team.
“That’s how I am going to lead. I will lead by example but I am going to lead with my team because that’s important to me.”