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Meet New Westminster council candidate: Tasha Henderson

Council hopefuls responded to our city council-focused questionnaire. Here's what they had to say.
Tasha Henderson 2022
Tasha Henderson is running for Community First New West in New Westminster's 2022 council race.

Affiliation: Community First New West

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I am a city planner and parent. As a city planner I am passionate about transformative policy and understand how cities work and how to get things done. Throughout my career, I have worked alongside communities across Canada tackling issues like poverty, affordable and adequate housing, and civic engagement. I spent over a decade working in direct-service with people with urgent needs and my approach to everything I do is always centered on lifting people up and building stronger communities. I am also a parent of two young children and am proud to be raising my family in New Westminster.

Why are you running for city council?

New West is the regional hot-spot for many young families, and I want to make sure New West remains an inclusive place for all families. This means working on complex issues like supporting the development of affordable housing, increasing the number of childcare spaces in every neighbourhood, and responding to the climate crisis in the way our kids need us to. It also means ensuring that the city’s services, amenities and engagement efforts meet the needs of all families, for example, by improving the availability and registration process of recreation programming to increase accessibility and equity in participation.

What do you consider to be the Top 3 issues facing New Westminster at this time?

Housing security and affordability are the city’s top issues. We need to prioritize protecting our existing rental stock, push to increase the number of affordable units required in new multi-family developments around transit, and streamline permitting processes to accelerate the construction of “missing middle” housing for young working families, like laneway homes and townhouses. I’m excited to explore more innovative and bold ideas, such as developing a Community Land Trust model, to keep tackling this complex issue.

Additionally, we desperately need more daycare and out-of-school care spaces in the city so that working families can live and work in New Westminster. We can work on this by leveraging multi-family housing developments and new school expansions to bring additional childcare spaces to every neighbourhood.

Our local businesses faced major setbacks during the pandemic and it will be important for the new council to prioritize supporting economic development. Working closely with the Downtown and Uptown BIAs will continue to be crucial, as will supporting small business retention, with an emphasis on 12th Street and under-supported commercial areas. We need to respond to local business needs with a new retail strategy that addresses the unique needs of small businesses in the 21st century.

What is the biggest success and/or failure of the current city council?

I’m impressed at the volume of ways the city has tackled the housing crisis to become leaders on this issue. Their leadership on the anti-renoviction bylaw made provincial impact through its adoption in the Residential Tenancy Act, helping to keep people in their homes. They secured funding for an emergency shelter, approved deeply affordable housing in multiple neighbourhoods, and accelerated the development process for all non-profit housing applications. Through the adoption of the inclusionary housing policy, affordable and below-market units became required as a condition of rezoning. This is a strong foundation to build on to continue this important work.

Do you support city council’s decision to have the City of New Westminster stop using the Royal City moniker and crown logo as part of its official branding? Why or why not?

Cities regularly go through a rebranding process and alter their logo and tagline to better reflect the values of their community. Knowing the work the current city council has done in regards to reconciliation, I think it’s an appropriate time to reflect on how the city demonstrates its values to the community (and beyond!) and I look forward to having meaningful and comprehensive engagement with the community-at-large on this issue to find a way forward we can all be proud of.

What is your housing situation? Homeowner, renter, other? Landlord?

I am a homeowner, living in Sapperton with my husband, two children, dog and gecko.

New Westminster’s population is currently 82,590 and is projected to grow to about 100,000 by 2031. How – and where – do you want the city to accommodate that growth?

We need to ensure that we manage growth through a variety and diverse mix of residential spaces such as townhomes, stacked townhomes, low- and mid-rise apartments, and highrise apartments. There are identified transit-oriented areas already identified in New West that can accommodate larger increases in density, such as around the Braid, Sapperton, and 22nd SkyTrain stations. The Brewery District Building 8 site, 100 Braid Street and Sapperton Green developments will all increase density around the Braid and Sapperton SkyTrain stations, and the work to engage with the community to develop the Bold Vision for 22nd Street will be re-initiated this term after a pause during the pandemic. Encouraging “gentle density” in single-family neighbourhoods like laneway houses, duplexes, and four-plexes will continue to be important, as will reviewing development policies to encourage additional co-housing opportunities, as we find creative ways to welcome our new neighbours to the city in ways that increase the vibrancy, livability, and connectedness for everyone in New Westminster.

Some organizations are calling on municipal governments to support the creation of non-profit housing by allowing projects to be built without fulfilling rezoning requirements. (As an example, Women Transforming Cities wants social housing initiatives of up to 12 storeys to be permitted in multi-family area and up to six storeys in other residential areas, without a rezoning requirement). Is this something you would support?

As a city, we follow the bylaws set out by the province on housing development. I’m curious to explore ways we can update and streamline the development process at city hall to expedite the development of affordable and below-market housing and build housing faster for those who need it most. I think together we can create solutions that reflect the values of our community and work in New Westminster.

The New Westminster Police Department’s budget has been a contentious issue in recent years, with some council members supporting cuts (to the requested budget increase) to the NWPD’s budget. (Budgets put forward by the police board were ultimately approved by council.) If elected, would you support cuts to the New Westminster Police Department’s budget in the city’s next budget? 

I believe cooperation, collaboration, and transparency are key between the city and the police board to ensure that we are allocating available resources in a way that will best lift up all of our residents. I’m committed to working through this process in the next budget with the police board. Police need resources to do their job effectively and safely. I also see consensus that some portion of the NWPD’s workload may be better provided by non-policing alternatives. I’m really excited to continue exploring partnerships like the one the city has with the Canadian Mental Health Association to support the development of Peer Assisted Crisis Teams in New Westminster, a program that reduces the workload of the police force. As a city councillor, I want to focus on building these kinds of innovative partnerships and supporting our local organizations who work to support people to find stable housing and employment opportunities.

City council has developed and used the Seven Bold Steps for Climate Action (and its strategic plan) as the basis for making all decisions. Has the city done enough to address the climate crisis? Too much?

I’m so impressed with the urgency and concrete action the current council has taken in response to the climate crisis. The award-winning Seven Bold Steps to Climate Action plan and the community energy plan have been recognized throughout the province and shows me that this council and city staff understand the local government’s important role in building a more sustainable, greener city that serves us all. The plan has strong, evidence-based policies with ambitious, but achievable, goals. And yet, there is still so much we can do — whether it’s building resilience in the face of emergent climate-driven risks like extreme heat, planting more trees and enhancing our green spaces, or investing in a core mobility network for pedestrians and cyclists.

The climate crisis is the most critical and urgent issue of our time and it impacts everyone. As a parent, I feel this sense of urgency so deeply as I worry about the planet —  and climate-driven issues — my children are inheriting; it’s why I co-founded the local community group Babies for Climate Action with other concerned parents. I will work to find innovative solutions at the local level that improve our quality of life and be carbon-neutral by 2050.

You have 24 hours and your calendar is open. What would be your ideal day in New West?

I would get up early, put on a podcast, and walk the dog up the Sapperton hills. After breakfast, I’d grab my kids and a coffee from Take Five Café and head to Sapperton Park to meet up with friends. Later, my husband and I would cycle on the Crosstown Greenway with the kids to the library to do our weekly book exchange and on the way home, spend a painfully long time deciding on which scoop to choose at Rocky Point. I’d drop the kids off at Grandma and Grandpa’s in Queens Park and sneak off to meet a friend at the River Market and walk along the water. I’d be home in time for dinner and we would walk or scoot down to Hume Park Pool for an after-dinner swim before bedtime. I’d collapse in bed that night feeling exhausted and grateful to live in this amazing city.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters?

As a city planner I not only understand how cities work, but I know what they are capable of. With the mounting pressures around liveability and affordability, it has never been more important to ensure young families are represented at the council table. I want to get to work on housing, childcare, and implementing the five-year capital plan to build new and refreshed sports and recreation facilities, parks and playgrounds, and improving the access and availability of recreation programming to keep up with demand and be inclusive to all residents. I’m so excited to serve the City of New Westminster.

How can folks contact you?