Roger Kishi, a Japanese-Canadian directing housing programs for urban Aboriginal people in the Comox Valley, hopes to continue his passion for affordable housing in Cumberland and across the region. And he wants to finish the village’s several major infrastructure projects
Roger Kishi has a passion for affordable housing. It’s his day job as the director of Homeless & Housing Programs for the Wachiay Friendship Centre, and one of his main areas of focus for a third term on the Cumberland Village Council.
Since moving to the Comox Valley in 2000 from North Vancouver, Kishi has worked at Wachiay, which provides supports and services to the urban Aboriginal population.
Kishi himself is a fourth generation Japanese-Canadian, and currently the only non-caucasian elected official in the Comox Valley. He hopes voters will elect other candidates of diverse ethnicity this year.
“We bring a different perspective to local government,” he told Decafnation.
Kishi enjoys the complexity of issues that a council member must understand and handle, and making an overall contribution to how the community functions.
He’s proud of initiating the Comox Valley’s only off-leash dog park in his first term. It’s not only well used by people from around the Valley, but it’s now home to pet-related events.
And the village has added nearby skate and jump parks, all part of the parks master plan.
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He points to other accomplishments with his council colleagues like the redevelopment of six blocks of Dunsmuir Avenue, part of a larger project to separate the village’s stormwater and sewer systems.
He notes the village’s gateway improvements that include roadside landscaping and treed medians. It was funded by the Comox Strathcona Solid Waste committee because Cumberland hosts the region’s main landfill and recycling location, which impacts roads and other infrastructure.
Kishi is particularly pleased with the successful outcomes of a village initiative to install water meters at every household, and at no cost. It was paid for by provincial grants.
He said the meters were not a money grab, but a conservation measure. They have pinpointed leaks in the system that were wasting immense quantities of water in some cases and simply made people aware of their consumption.
“Since the meters have been installed, our water consumption has gone down 40 percent,” he said. “That’s a success for our long-range water plans; we now have the capacity to expand.”
The village has recently added UV treatment to its drinking water, twinned pipes from its dams and drilled an auxiliary well to supplement its water security.
Kishi said villagers like the independence of having their own water system.
“It’s part of our historical nature: We look after our own,” he said.
The village also faces another large infrastructure project over the next four years: it’s wastewater treatment plant. The Ministry of the Environment has ordered the village to provide a higher level of treatment or face potentially large fines.
Kishi said council hopes to fund a large portion of the $9 million project with grants, but also needs voter approval from a referendum on the Cumberland ballot this fall to borrow $4.4 million to get construction underway.
“We have no choice,” he said. “The treatment plant has to be upgraded and we will have to borrow money.”
Kishi said the village has an affordable housing plan, they just have to implement it now.
Council can control how a development is done by using zoning and through housing agreements. In the latter case, for example, the village may trade variances for parking or setbacks the developer wants for a greater number of units priced at, say, 20 percent below market value.
“With housing agreements, we can make sure there is a mix of housing, that it’s not all single family houses,” he said.
Kishi said the Stoneleigh Estates development, currently underway in Coal Valley Estates, will provide 84 units of multi-family housing, which was entirely sold out in pre-construction sales.
Kishi said the village is building capacity to deal with its growth issues.
They have recently hired a manager of development services, a new senior planner and an economic development officer on a fixed term contract. His job is develop a plan to sustain the community’s economic future, and is looking at creating industrial lands.
In his day job at Wachiay, Kishi has been doggedly working for 10 years to build Braidwood in Courtenay, which will offer 35 units, 28 of which are bachelor suites that will rent either at the income assistance level of $375 per month or at 10 percent below market rate. The other six are one-bedroom units.
Wachiay and its partner M’akola Development Services, of which Kishi is also a board member, were the only responders to a Courtenay RFP willing to take a risk on building Braidwood.
“I’m sticking it out to make sure we get people into Braidwood,” he said.