News / Toronto

Toronto explores possibility of implementing vacant homes tax

Generation Squeeze, Vancouver-based organization that advocates for affordable housing, will circulate a petition later this week in support of the tax.

Vacant condos could be used for housing. torstar

Torstar News Service Order this photo

Vacant condos could be used for housing. torstar

Ahead of public consultation on a potential new tax, supporters say it's not about bringing in more money; it's about correcting the calculus of Toronto's housing market.

"The purpose of the vacant-homes tax is not necessarily to raise more revenue for the city but instead to change the incentives for how people use the real estate they own," said Paul Kershaw, a UBC professor and the founder of Generation Squeeze, a Vancouver-based organization that advocates for affordable housing.

Generation Squeeze will circulate a petition later this week in support of the tax — a new power the province offered to the city in a 16-point plan designed to respond to Toronto's housing affordability crisis.

"Each year the city is only building 17,000 homes," said Kershaw. "You've got an entire year's worth of supply sitting empty." Kershaw argues that if even a quarter of Toronto's estimated 15,000 to 28,000 vacant units became available, it would make a big dent in the market.

While Kershaw is optimistic, the tax comes with limits and complications.

Determining which homes are vacant is not an easy task. The city has ruled out looking at hydro usage as a proxy for vacancy, citing privacy concerns. That leaves three options, which are included in an ongoing public survey: a self-reporting model, asking neighbours to complain to the city about vacant properties or a mandatory declaration for all properties.

The latter model was chosen by Vancouver, which implemented its vacant homes tax in 2016 and could serve as a model for Toronto's approach.

The tax would not bring in a windfall, if Vancouver is any indication. Its 10,000 vacant units added up to $2.2 million in additional revenue for the city. But it will also cost the city $1.5 million to collect the tax each year, resulting in a mere surplus of $700,000, according to a City of Toronto staff report released in July.

More on Metronews.ca