Vancouver’s Mayor says the city is forging ahead with taxing empty homes, with or without the province’s support.
Gregor Robertson says the punitive tax would boost rental supply at a time when there’s almost no vacancy and a crunch on affordability.
He says the first and preferred option is for the provincial government to create a new “residential vacant” property class through BC Assessment.
And if the province doesn’t get on board?
“The second option for the city is to establish and charge a new business tax on empty or under-occupied homes that are being held as investments with the revenues collected on that empty home business tax going to other affordable housing initiatives.”
In the past, Robertson said the punitive tax is meant to discourage investment properties from sitting empty, bur rather put on the rental market.
Speculative and absentee home owners have been blamed for playing a role in Vancouver’s sky high housing prices and dismally low rental vacancy rate.
A study earlier this year found at least 10,800 Vancouver homes are empty.
Better than nothing at all, says Eby
B.C.’s NDP housing critic agrees the vacancy tax should be administered by the province.
David Eby says Vancouver doesn’t have enough information to make a vacancy tax effective.
“They have that income tax data they have ready access to it and then you don’t essentially have to send inspectors around to figure out whether a place is empty or not, you can just use the tax data. It is very clear whether or not somebody is using B.C. as their permanent residence or not and whether they are renting out a unit.”
Eby calls it an “absolute crime” to have more than 10-thousand vacant condos in a city in the middle of a housing crisis.
He says a “half measure” from the city is better than nothing at all.
UBC policy professor Dr. Paul Kershaw and the man behind the awareness campaign “Generation Squeeze” calls it a “bold” move to address the housing affordability crisis.
“I think the mayor is signalling that in this context of so little rental vacancy and housing home ownership prices so out of reach, we need to remember that our housing market is first and foremost about providing a sufficient supply of homes at prices that are in reach for what people can earn for full time work.”
However Kershaw says the province has greater power over tax policy and should be in charge of administering the new vacancy tax.
But does the city have the power to implement a tax?
According to the General Manager of Community Services Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas; yes it does.
That’s a unique feature under the Vancouver Charter which Llewellyn-Thomas says allows the city to levy a business tax.
“We haven’t done it in a long time and so that’s one of the reasons why we need to study very closely to see how to implement it.”
Today Robertson told reporters if he doesn’t hear from the provincial government by August first; then the city will take action by what he describes as treating empty houses as businesses investing in Vancouver’s market.