The city of Vancouver is one step closer to an empty homes tax, with Council receiving a detailed report from staff on the process today.
While the majority of Councillors appeared warm to the idea, some did raise concerns.
Vision Councillor Kerry Jang says there are concerns in the Chinese community, where he says many parents buy homes for their children or extended family and worry about problem renters.
NPA Councillor George Affleck calls the move a cash grab.
“Taxes in the city have gone up 45% under Vision Vancouver in under the last eight years so this one per cent tax is insignificant in its impact on affordability in the city,” he said.
Fellow NPA Councillor Melissa de Genova raised concerns about enforcing the measure, pointing to challenges the city is already facing with delinquent marijuana dispensaries.
And she says the tax is too big on penalties, without offering homeowners enough incentives.
“I’ve urged the Mayor, and council before, especially Vision Vancouver,” she says. “They ram through these policies, and they don’t think about the ramifications on affordability. Why not an incentive approach? We should be offering a carrot, instead of beating homeowners over the head with a stick on this policy.”
But Mayor Gregor Robertson says he’s confident the tax is the smartest way to address the problem.
“For the city to give incentives that means we either raise taxes for everybody to give an incentive like cash to people who have second or third homes that they don’t want to rent out,” he said.
Vancouver is looking at the tax as a way to encourage owners to rent out vacant properties, as the city grapples with a vacancy rate hovering around 0.6%.
The city is proposing a rate of 1%, with any money raised to be earmarked for “affordable housing initiatives.”
The proposed tax includes a variety of exemptions for owners, including those doing renovations or with strata rental agreement restrictions, snowbirds, or academic staff on sabbatical.
Vancouver acted on the tax, after a report back in March, which found 10,000 empty homes in the city, 90% of them condos. That report suggested filling the units could raise the city’s vacancy rate as high as 10%; staff today suggested a more modest target of 3-5%.
The city says the system will rely on self-declaration that will be enforced through an audit process, though it’s still unclear how that enforcement program will work.
If passed, the empty homes tax would be in force for 2017. The first homeowners’ declarations would be due February of 2018, bills would be sent in in March, with the tax due April.
The floor will be open to public comment tomorrow, with a vote on the measure expected this week.
With files from Jeremy Lye