June 22, 2016 12:14 pm
Updated: June 22, 2016 9:15 pm

City of Vancouver considering two options for vacant home tax

WATCH: The City of Vancouver has unveiled a number of options that would allow it to tax empty homes. As John Hua reports, not everyone is convinced it would ease the affordability crisis.


The City of Vancouver is asking the B.C. Government to create a residential vacant class through BC Assessment to deal with the issue of vacant homes in the city.

Mayor Gregor Robertson announced at a press conference on Wednesday that the city wants to implement a new business tax on vacant homes.

Vancouver currently has a rental vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent. Adding the current vacant homes to the market will bring the vacancy rate up to three per cent, which is still on the lower end of what is considered “healthy” for a city the size of Vancouver.

The province has up until Aug. 1 to provide a written response to the City of Vancouver or council will take the next steps towards implementing the tax. Robertson says the city will take action on empty homes “with or without the province.”

There is no number at this time on how much the tax will be.

WATCH: Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson on vacant home tax

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Robertson has said numerous times in the past that he wants houses in the city to be homes, not merely investments.

“Vancouver housing is first and foremost for homes, not a commodity to make money with,” said Robertson in a release. “We need a tax on empty homes to encourage the best use of all our housing, and help boost our rental supply at a time when there’s almost no vacancy and a real crunch on affordability. The B.C. government recognizes the need for more housing supply to address affordability and they can enable the best tool to help turn thousands of empty homes into rental homes. I’ve asked for the B.C. government’s urgent support to tax empty homes but the City needs to take action with or without other levels of government.”

WATCH:  Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced plans for a speculation tax designed to address an estimated 10,000 homes reportedly sitting vacant. John Hua reports.

“We’ll continue to pursue all possible options at City Hall to create opportunities for people struggling to find homes in Vancouver.”

The next steps include writing to Premier Christy Clark to request the province confirm its support to create and administer a new residential vacant property class, so the city has the option to set a different property tax rate for empty homes.

If the city does not hear back from the province by Aug. 1, 2016, council will direct staff to report back on next steps to implement a city-administered empty homes tax.

Clark said in a tweet the province will “respond quickly.”

B.C. is starting to track citizenship of real estate owners, as housing affordability reaches crisis levels in some cities, including Vancouver.

“So much of the [affordability discussion] has focused in part in the absence of reliable data on what exactly is going on. Who is buying, where are they from,” B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said in February.

“We think it’s time to start collecting again.”

Reality check: Can Canada’s red-hot housing markets be reined in?

Cameron Muir, chief economist with the British Columbia Real Estate Association says he’s eager to see the results, so the “extent and depth” of foreign ownership can truly be examined. But he doesn’t expect it to be a game-changer.

“I think the data to date certainly suggests it’s a factor, but not a sufficient factor to cause the kinds of housing demand that we’re seeing today.”

He says the bulk of B.C. buyers live and work in their communities.

A May 2016 survey through the City’s Talk Housing platform – with more than 15,000 respondents – found that 91 per cent of residents agreed that the number of empty homes in Vancouver is a problem, and 88 per cent agreed that the city should advocate for senior government action to reduce the number of empty homes in Vancouver.

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