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Should other B.C. cities have an empty homes tax?

Downtown Vancouver is seen in the early morning of July 8, 2019. (Source: NEWS 1130/Riley Phillips)

A push to give cities beyond Vancouver the option to bring in vacancy taxes is being welcomed by affordability advocates

But there are concerns from other groups about government overreach

WHITE ROCK (NEWS 1130) — If you have strong feelings about the empty homes tax, you should know there’s a push to see similar levies in municipalities beyond Vancouver.

White Rock is bringing the idea to the Union of B.C. Municipalities in September, hoping it will work with the province to make it happen.

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Justin Fung with Housing Action for Local Taxpayers thinks this makes sense.

“I see that as a positive, definitely: trying to get more folks to take some of these homes they may have speculated in and bring them back onto the market,” he says.

He believes the tax is a useful way to encourage speculators to put uninhabited properties onto the rental market.

“I’ve actually walked into several showings for rentals, where the house clearly had been left unattended for several years,” he says. “So I think that’s definitely a positive — these are homes that are coming back on the market.”

That being said, Fung is cautious about unintended consequences if an empty storefront tax is also introduced as has been discussed.

Developer Michael Geller says he supports a tax in principle, as long as it is structured differently than Vancouver’s version.

“People are, right now, suing the City of Vancouver — their homes were being renovated, the city refused to believe they were being renovated,” he says. “This sort of thing is completely wrong.

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Meanwhile, Rainer Borkenhagen with the Unjust Property Tax Coalition says if other municipalities do bring in this type of tax, they need to avoid casting as wide a net as Vancouver.

“The experience in Vancouver, as far as we’re concerned so far, is that it’s pulled in a whole lot of people who legitimately have secondary residences,” he says.

“Many people are retired, there is good reason to have a secondary apartment or something like that in town because of family, or because of medical illnesses. They don’t qualify to be exempt.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities will be holding their convention in Vancouver from September 23-27.