News / Vancouver

Up to a quarter of Coal Harbour condos sitting empty or foreign-owned

Up to a quarter of condos in Coal Harbour are sitting empty or are occupied by non-residents — more than four times the national average — and the pattern extends to other parts of the downtown core, according to new data released this week.

Andy Yan, an adjunct planning professor at UBC, looked at the 2011 census to see how many units had no one in them to answer the government's mandatory survey, even after officials followed up with phone calls and visits.

To create a proxy measure of how much of a role foreign investment plays in Vancouver's housing market, he then added those figures together with the number of units that were occupied by someone without Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status. He found that on average, 15 per cent, or 5,710 units, in Vancouver's downtown core sat empty or occupied by a foreigner in 2011.

"I agree with some of my economist friends that some of this works for Vancouverites because it brings in money that we may not otherwise have to put up these buildings," he said.

"But then the issue is, what happens when it begins to crowd out those who are living here or want to kind of grow here?"

Out of 25 Canadian cities, Vancouver ranked the third-highest in what he termed "non-resident occupancy," behind only Windsor and London: cities whose economies are struggling. His previous research shows 50 to 60 per cent of Vancouver's housing stock is investor owned, as opposed to owner occupied.

Yan stressed that the owners of some of the empty units may have been away on extended business trips, or using them as secondary homes. But he said if condos are being left empty year-round, it's safe to say they are being bought for speculative purposes.

Vancouver city Coun. Geoff Meggs called Yan's finding "very provocative," and said more might need to be done to clamp down on speculative investments in Vancouver's limited housing stock. He suggested strata council rules that restrict rentals might also be part of the problem.

"I don't have the slightest worry about super high-end units being slow to sell or sitting empty," Meggs said, noting many condos are still empty in the Olympic village because they will lose value if they are rented out rather than sold brand new.

"I want average people to be able to get a decent home, and if these mid-range condominiums are being held up by inappropriate speculation or restrictive strata council rules, those are solutions I'd like to look at."

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