News / Toronto

In housing crunch, 15,000 to 28,000 Toronto homes sit empty, says new city report

The city looked at Toronto Hydro data to get an estimate of vacant homes and is considering a tax on such properties.

It's harder than ever to find a place to live in Toronto, but thousands of homes are sitting empty, says a new city report.

File / Torstar News Service

It's harder than ever to find a place to live in Toronto, but thousands of homes are sitting empty, says a new city report.

Between 15,000 and 28,000 homes in Toronto sit empty amid the housing crisis, according to a new staff report exploring the possibility of a vacant-homes tax.

City staff tried to determine the number of units held purely as investments. They arrived at their figure by looking at Toronto Hydro data on addresses where electricity and water hadn’t been used in a year.

“That’s a lot of rental housing that could be made available,” said Cherise Burda, executive director of the Ryerson City Building Institute. The city estimates those empty homes represent 2 to 4 per cent of all housing units.

The province has already introduced legislation allowing Toronto and other cities to develop empty-homes taxes, as Vancouver has done, to clamp down on investment speculation.

A City of Vancouver study using similar methods pegged the number of empty homes there at 10,800.

Burda is encouraged Toronto has taken this first step toward a tax that would incentivize people to rent out vacant homes.

However, she believes the real number of empty units is much larger, as the new report doesn’t take into account places where hydro isn’t even hooked up.

“We need to be building housing for our population, not for speculation,” she said.

“It is important practically to put thousands of homes into supply for renters, and it is important to begin a conversation about taxing housing wealth more fairly,” echoed Paul Kershaw, head of youth advocacy group Generation Squeeze, who has studied housing policy in B.C. and Ontario.

Coun. Ana Bailão, the mayor’s lead on housing, said about 15,000 to 17,000 new units are built each year, so the city could theoretically put a year’s worth of supply into the system at once with a new tax.

If council’s executive committee approves next week, staff will report back in September with recommendations on how a vacancy tax could work.

Bailão called it an “aggressive timeline” but said this measure, coupled with proposed regulations cracking down on Airbnb and other short-term rentals, can make a dent in the city’s housing shortage.

“We are in very unhealthy territory in the rental market,” she said, pointing to a vacancy rate of just 1.3 per cent.

What Vancouver's doing:

Vancouver’s empty-homes tax is one per cent of the unit’s value, and people can avoid it if they rent out the property.

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