September 13, 2017 2:47 am
Updated: September 13, 2017 2:48 am

Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate is near zero. Here are 7 ideas to help lift it

As we continue our focus on livability in Vancouver, Tanya Beja explores what has to be done by municipal and provincial governments to ease the crisis in rental housing.

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The challenge of finding a home to rent in Vancouver can hardly be overstated.

The overall vacancy rate in the Vancouver area was 0.7 per cent in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) last rental market report, which reflects rates as of October 2016.

It’s zero for some housing types in certain parts of the region.

Coverage of renting in B.C. on Globalnews.ca:

And the actual cost of renting is no less burdensome for the people who live here.

The median cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment was pegged at $1,950 per month in August, with two-bedroom apartments going for $2,600, according to the blog Quantitative Rhetoric, which regularly analyzes rental data using a popular online renting marketplace.

But how to solve the problem? Vancouverites and others have floated a few solutions.

Some are promises, some are in progress. All are aimed at making it just a little easier to find a place to live in the region.

Here are seven ideas to help lift Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate a little further above zero:

A ‘flipping levy’ on all homes sold within three years of a purchase

Judy Graves.

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Vancouver city council candidate Judy Graves has proposed a “flipping levy” on any home that’s been sold within three years of its purchase.

It would apply a 50 per cent tax to any speculative profit made on the home within a year of its sale, and then a 35 per cent tax to the profits in years two and three.

An empty homes tax

This heritage home at 5503 Blenheim Street is pictured in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, July, 27, 2016.

Jonathan Hayward/CP

The City of Vancouver has approved an empty homes tax that amounts to one per cent of the value of any units that are not principal residences that are occupied for at least six months of the year.

The tax has been characterized as an “ATM fee” by Andy Yan, a planner and director of the SFU City Program.

A speculation tax

Premier John Horgan gives a thumbs up after giving an oath with Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon as he’s sworn-in as Premier during a ceremony with his provincial cabinet at Government House in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

Chad Hipolito/CP

In their election platform, the BC NDP proposed a tax on real estate speculation.

It would levy two per cent on the value of homes that are owned by people who don’t otherwise provincial taxes.

However, the tax was absent from the provincial government’s budget update on Monday, as the NDP prepares to talk housing issues with the Green Party.

A luxury property surtax

This home, located on Cedar Crescent in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy, is in one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, according to a new survey.

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Judy Graves has also proposed a “property surtax” on Vancouver’s most expensive homes.

There would be a 1.5 per cent tax on the wealthiest one per cent of Vancouver homeowners, and a 0.5 per cent tax on the richest five per cent of homeowners in the city.

A ‘mansion tax’

Jean Swanson puts on a t-shirt while preparing for a demonstration to announce the Poverty Olympics and torch relay near the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics countdown clock in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday January 17, 2010.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Meanwhile, Vancouver city council candidate Jean Swanson has proposed a “Mansion Tax.

Swanson didn’t specify how high the tax would be on her website, but in promoting the idea, she cited a “tax on the wealthy” in Seattle. It’s a 2.25 per cent income tax on people who make total income of $250,000, and on married couples who make over $500,000.

Revenues from a mansion tax could help pay for the construction of 2,138 units of modular housing on city-owned lots, she said.

Such a project would have capital costs of about $160 million, Swanson added.

Short-term rental regulations

A “for rent” sign in Vancouver.

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The City of Vancouver has looked at implementing new rules for short-term rentals.

Under the rules, which will be subject to a public hearing in the fall, people who hope to rent their homes may have to pay $49 for an annual licence, as well as a one-time application fee of $54.

A four-year rent freeze

Young families say their generation has been priced out of the Vancouver condo market, making it impossible to get housing anywhere near the city.

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Jean Swanson has also proposed a rent freeze, which would see city council take the position that there would be no increase in the cost of renting a unit over the next four years.

Council would “ask the provincial government to set the maximum allowable rent increase at zero per cent for the next four years within the City of Vancouver and lobby fiercely to get this change,” she said on her website.

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