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Toronto Real Estate Board survey offers more info on vacant homes in the city

This information comes while the city is in an "exploratory phase" on the idea of a vacant-homes tax, which is being implemented in Vancouver.

How many of those condo towers have empty units in them?

Eduardo Lima / Metro

How many of those condo towers have empty units in them?

A survey from the Toronto Real Estate Board shows that two per cent of homeowners have a second property sitting empty as city staff continue to explore the idea of a vacant-homes tax.

The survey, done by Ipsos in November, looked at 2,501 households. While 76 per cent said they did not own a second property at all, 22 per cent said they did and rented it out.

It's been tricky to pin down exactly how many units in the city are not being used. But in a city with an extremely low 1 per cent vacancy rate, any empty units can seem like too many to desperate renters.

Last summer, city staff estimated that between 15,000 and 28,000 homes in Toronto lie empty. They arrived at that figure by looking at Toronto Hydro data on addresses where electricity and water hadn’t been used in a year.

City spokesperson Paula Chung wrote in an email that city staff are currently in an "exploratory phase" on the file and looking at how vacant-homes taxes are being implemented in places like Vancouver. "They expect to report back later this year," she added.

Twenty-five per cent of owners of second properties in the Ipsos survey said they would not be impacted at all by a vacant-homes tax, while 37 per cent said they would sell the property and 36 per cent said they would start renting it out.

Cherise Burda, executive director of Ryerson's City Building Institute, said there's not enough information to determine whether a vacant-homes tax would help Toronto's housing crisis. While she's glad the city is investigating, the bigger issue is how to redirect real estate from being "investment driven."

A vacant-homes tax would be one "page out of Vancouver's book." But officials in that city are also looking at zoning for rental only, which Burda thinks should be explored in Toronto to ensure homes are built for people to live in, "not for speculation."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson hopes their vacant-homes tax will bring as many as 25,000 empty units back on the rental market. But there have already been wrinkles. The deadline for homeowners to declare if their properties are empty is Feb. 2 and, as Metro Vancouver reported, about 21,000 homeowners (11 per cent) have not yet declared that their residential property is occupied.

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