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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Vancouver's Empty Homes Tax is the antidote to rental market woes

Throughout October, the city will be hosting open houses to determine aspects like what empty homes should be exempt and how much the tax should be

Vancouver is bringing in an Empty Homes Tax in an effort to force some of the city's 10,800 empty homes into the rental market.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

Vancouver is bringing in an Empty Homes Tax in an effort to force some of the city's 10,800 empty homes into the rental market.

When a Vancouver renter tells me they are thinking of moving, I react similarly to when a friend confides they have been diagnosed with a degenerative illness. I smile with compassion, I touch their arm in a maternal way, and encourage them to hold on to hope because what seems incurable today, could be solved tomorrow.

The City of Vancouver is working on a new antidote to our rental market woes, the Empty Homes Tax.

Empowered by a provincial bylaw change that went into effect in July, the city now has the authority to impose a tax on unoccupied homes, and perhaps design it with enough teeth to force some of the estimated 10,800 empty properties into our rental market.

Throughout October, the city will be hosting open houses to determine aspects like what empty homes should be exempt and how much the tax should be. There’s also an online survey.

If you’re a renter, landlord, or someone who’s sitting on an empty property for what you think is a really good reason, speak up now, because all this is going to go by quickly. Consultation will happen in October, and the city is aiming to mail the first heads up to homeowners in December. Though owners wouldn’t be billed until early 2018, the clock will start running in January 2017.

Renters can keep their fingers crossed that absent owners will balk and choose to list their property for rent to avoid paying it. For that to happen, the tax rate will have to be significant, given that anyone sitting on an empty property is already absorbing a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in missed rental revenue. We can expect that people of such means and entitlement will also be the type who can lawyer up and interfere with the city’s efforts through elaborate litigious appeals.

Revenue raised by the tax would be put to work creating affordable housing, and the potential revenue numbers are enough to make a housing activist giddy. The city is considering a tax rate as low as .5 per cent, but even that would cost the owner of a $600,000 condo another $3,000 per year. If even one quarter of empty homes were taxed at that rate, the city would have over $8 million a year to put into housing.

Some homeowners for whom a tax that limits what they can do with their own private property offends their sense of frontier justice, will undoubtedly be filling out the city’s survey and hitting up these open house events, so please don’t miss your chance to speak up for yourself, and all of us who need a place to live in Vancouver.

Find the city’s survey at vancouver.ca/emptyhomes

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. 

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