Cynthia Mufandaedza brings her experience running Best Movers to her run for Yellowknife City Council.
A first-time candidate, Mufandaedza says she has been conducting informal "exit interviews" with residents as they pack up and leave – and knows what needs to change.
She wants to keep property tax down, be a voice for Kam Lake, and ensure a balance is struck when it comes to how the likes of AirBnB are regulated.
Mufandaedza said her first-hand experience dealing with evictions and moving people from their homes would inform her approach to citywide homelessness issues.
"It's not 'the homeless.' They have names," she said. "They are the Johns, the Peters of the world. Behind these people there is a family that's suffering."
There are 16 candidates standing for the eight positions on Yellowknife City Council. Election day is October 15, 2018.
This interview was recorded on September 21, 2018.
Ollie Williams: Why do you want to run?
Cynthia Mufandaedza: I have been in Yellowknife for seven years now. Over the last seven years I have volunteered with various not-for-profits and I am also a business owner, we run three businesses in town. We started Best Movers seven years ago – it started with two people, my husband and myself, and a small truck. Now we own our own property in town, we have about 16 employees, and we cover the entire NWT. We also own Dash Event Designs and Rentals and RCN Business Solutions, right here in Yellowknife.
I am a Kam Lake resident. The reason I am looking at running for council is for me to be able to give back to my city, and also bring my voice, my children's voice, and my neighbours' voice to city council – to be that spokesperson on issues that matter to us.
Kam Lake has been an on-again, off-again council topic for years. What would you do in Kam Lake, how do you keep residents and industries in Kam Lake happy alongside each other? How much is that a part of why you wanted to stand?
One of the reasons I'm looking at running is the constant topic of property tax. As a business owner and somebody looking at investing in Yellowknife, I would like to see us being able to do more for Kam Lake without worrying about property tax or an increase on property tax.
If you were a councillor, what would you bring forward?
One thing I would not vote for is an increase in property tax. Property tax plays a role in the cost of living in Yellowknife. I would like to see it not being increased so that dollar trickles down to the customer, and I don't have to raise rates for my customers. I would like to see that dollar trickle down to my employees so I can give them a raise, and to the grocery store so there is no price hike on basic goods. That's the reason I would like to see property tax stay where it is and not increase at this time.
Property tax earns money for the City, and the City's budget is something councillors have to wrestle with. Does it follow, then, that you want to make sure the City doesn't spend any more than it currently is doing? Keep revenues down so people don't pay as much tax, but keep expenses down so we're not overspending?
Not necessarily that. Absolutely, look at the spending at City level... but explore other options of raising revenue for the City. Is there a possibility of a hotel levy? That, we could pass on to tourists and that might bridge the gap between the increase in property tax and what we are lacking.
The City has been fighting for that for years, and just made a presentation to the territorial government about legislation that will allow the City to do that for the first time. So your wish is already granted. That will help to earn some money for the City. What else do you think the City could look at for revenue generation?
One of the things I would like to see is not just a levy on the hotels, but regulation on the AirBnBs. Is there the potential for getting an increase on that? I am totally for AirBnBs because I feel like that really helps the everyday person to get extra income into their household, and be able to probably provide us with a work-life balance – the mom that doesn't have to work two jobs because she could rent out a room. So, once that's done, if we are able to regulate the AirBnBs, that is a market that can also contribute to this levy. I think that's another opportunity for the City.
How should that regulation look? There are so many different views on AirBnB in this city, from people who run them and want to be left alone; others say, if everything is an AirBnB, where are we going to find rooms to rent? Where do you think is an ideal middle ground?
I think we to be careful when we talk about AirBnB and finding the balance. We probably have to go back to why am I AirBnBing, or why do I have the extra room? Am I AirBnBing because my daughter is in college for three months and needs the room, so I can't have a permanent resident in there? Or because I just have an extra room? I don't think it's going to take away from what's currently on the market in terms of rent. It's almost going to be a supplementary income for the everyday person. In terms of regulating, my thought on this is – just having recently built a property in Kam Lake – one of the things I learned a lot was on being compliant with building codes and everything. One thing I quickly learned was it's not because the inspectors are being mean, but more because they are trying to protect us. I would like to see regulation so we can protect families in homes, tourists coming into homes. I totally believe regulation that allows us to get a bit of a guideline as to what the room, or home, should have and look like, would be good for everybody.
And do you think AirBnB owners should have to pass similar kinds of checks to bed-and-breakfast operators? In terms of safety, fire inspections, that kind of thing?
I don't think being an AirBnB should be equivalent to being a bed-and-breakfast. I think there has to be some sort of regulation that allows them to be complaint, not giving them a break on the regulation but I think we have to find the middle point for this. This is not a permanent arrangement, so should I be compliant like somebody running and advertising it on a regular basis? I think the basic requirements should be met, but not necessarily as strict as a facility totally dedicated to being a BnB.
You have clear views on property tax and on AirBnB, and on some aspects of city development. What made you decide, 'I need to come forward and stand for election,' as opposed to going and finding a councillor and saying, 'Hey, here are my thoughts, can you be my voice'?
Being in town for seven years, volunteering with organizations within Yellowknife, employing the everyday person, has given me a view of Yellowknife. One thing I keep talking about is the homelessness issue. It's not 'the homeless.' They have names, they are the Johns, the Peters of the world. Behind these people there is a family that's suffering because of this addiction. We've moved people from their house because they are suffering from an addiction and can no longer pay their bills. He is evicted, his children and his wife are affected. So I would like to be a part of this discussion and just bring my perspective from somebody that's had a first-hand experience of doing an eviction; somebody that's had a first-hand experience of losing a mover, or an employee, to an addiction; somebody that really understands what goes on, on the ground. I know we cannot do it at City level without partners like the GNWT and non-profits, but I would certainly like to bring my views to the table.
How would that experience that you have shape the policies that you want to see the City pursue?
I think the City is on the good road. Ten years is a really good timeframe for the plan to end homelessness to be implemented. I have taken the chance to look at the 10-year plan and I think we're on the right path. A lot of consultation would still need to be done. I am confident that, with the experience at the table, there is definitely a plan in place.
Is any part of your candidacy a reflection of you looking at the current city council and wishing it were more diverse?
Not necessarily but, then again, diversity is really great for any community. It would be good to see diversity in a community like Yellowknife, that is growing and attracting diversity.
Do you feel as though council has, historically, done a good job of representing the many different backgrounds in Yellowknife?
You know what, I think it's been fair. I don't know of anybody that's put their name forward to run that... you know, I think there was representation from anybody that had interest.
We've talked about homelessness, property tax. You're a business owner. What more could the City do to help business thrive?
In my industry, we do have the privilege of conducting an informal exit interview on people that are leaving Yellowknife.
Right! I'd never even thought of that. You are chatting to everyone who leaves Yellowknife to say, 'Why are you leaving?'
Exactly. We have a good chat. I go in to do an assessment and one of the things I say is, 'Oh, you're moving to a different city? Why?' And over and over, we've heard the issue of cost of living. I feel me coming to council as a businessperson will feed that input of why people are moving. Are we looking at downtown and how we could best use downtown? Is there a possibility of making it more of a metropolitan place where we are targeting a certain group of people that would love to live and work downtown? Do we see an increase in businesses, restaurants, bars? What are we doing, as a city, to make sure we are meeting and retaining the young people that are coming here as soon as they graduate?
Cost of living is interesting. Of course, everybody wants it to be cheaper to live here, but nobody really wants to let go of all the services and nice things that we have here. Where should the balance be between keeping the cost of living down – and the City maybe trimming back what it does – but still providing things that are fun and that make Yellowknife somewhere you want to live?
If we can find a way to cut on certain things, then we should be able to hopefully find the budget. Going back to property tax, does it trickle down to more spending dollars within our community? Does that really affect our cost of living? Yes it does, because if I can save a little on my property tax, I can save a little on everything else. If we have an increase and it ties up my dollar, I can't really afford to bring my kids swimming. That's what I'm looking for: ways to find that balance, not cut amenities, but balance it with the everyday person.
There's a mayoral election taking place at the same time. What are you looking for in a mayor?
I'm looking for a mayor that understands Yellowknife and keeping the cost of living down. A mayor that understands we cannot be spending as much at this time. This is not the time to be spending. I am a businessperson, I do see people struggle – people moving from a $700,000 home to a $300,000 home because they can no longer afford it. Five years ago people were moving into $700,000 homes. Right now, the shift is going downwards. We do need to understand we cannot be spending as if nothing is going on.
For example, should the City be spending a whole lot of money on a new swimming pool?
Well... you know what? I think one of the things is finding a balance on that spending. Where is the money coming from? I think we would explore a little bit of the revenue. Where are we funding this from? I would like to see a good swimming pool for my kids but I would also like to make sure, once it's open, I can bring my kids to swim. There might not be much sense to us getting a very expensive pool if we can't afford to swim in it. We need to strike the balance.
Have you figured out who you're going to vote for, for mayor?
Not yet. I am still listening to all the interviews and once I have had a chance to listen to them, I'm sure I will be able to make that decision.