News / Vancouver

Number of unoccupied Vancouver homes rises to 25,000, census data show

As city continues to struggle with tight rental market, data shows 8.2 per cent of Vancouver housing is left vacant or not permanently lived in

The view of Vancouver's skyline from the Burnaby Heights neighbourhood.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

The view of Vancouver's skyline from the Burnaby Heights neighbourhood.

The number of empty homes in Metro Vancouver continues to rise, according to population growth data from the 2016 Census.

Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of homes left vacant or not permanently lived in in the City of Vancouver rose from 7.7 per cent to 8.2 per cent, according to an analyses of Census data by Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

During the same period the number of such properties jumped by 15 per cent, from 22,169 to 25,502, in Vancouver.

Yan’s previous work had identified a high percentage of empty units in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood, an area filled with upscale condo buildings. Coal Harbour continues to have a high percentage of empty units, at 22 per cent.

But Joyce-Collingwood in East Vancouver has now overtaken Coal Harbour, with 24 per cent of homes unoccupied. Some of those may be land-assembled single family homes awaiting development, Yan said, or units purchased by investors in new condo developments in the neighbourhood.

Percentage of non-resident occupied dwellings in Vancouver

Data source: Statistics Canada, Census 2016, analysis by Andy Yan

Percentage of non-resident occupied dwellings in Vancouver

It’s not just a Vancouver phenomenon: the percentage of empty homes across Metro Vancouver doubled over 30 years, rising from 3.2 per cent in 1986 to 6.5 per cent in 2016. Surrey has the next-highest percentage of vacant properties at 6.2 per cent, although that number dropped slightly between 2016 and 2011.

Yan’s data analysis uses a different methodology than a previous report done for the City of Vancouver by energy conservation consultant Ecotagious. That study measured electricity consumption and showed there had been little change in the percentage of empty homes between 2002 and 2014. Ecotagious calculated that 10,800 units in the City of Vancouver were empty in 2014, and the majority of those were condos.

Statistics Canada includes non-permanent residents (like students and temporary or foreign residents) and unoccupied units in the same category. An analysis of 2011 census data by the firm Urban Futures found that 13 percent of housing units in the category were occupied by students or foreign residents, while 87 per cent were unoccupied.

Condos in Vancouver's upscale Coal Harbour neighbourhood, which has a relatively high rate of vacant units

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Condos in Vancouver's upscale Coal Harbour neighbourhood, which has a relatively high rate of vacant units

Units that were newly built but not yet occupied, were awaiting renovation, or were in transition to a new owner or tenant were all included in the unoccupied category. Statistics Canada determines a home is unoccupied after attempting several methods of communication with the occupants of an address and receiving no response.

In 2016, Vancouver became the only Canadian city to implement an empty homes tax: starting in April 2018, homeowners will have to pay the city an extra one per cent of the assessed value of the property if it is left empty for more than six months.

Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate is currently under one per cent, and the hope is that the tax will encourage more owners of second homes or investment condos to rent out those units.