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'Renters are back in these units': Vancouver mayor says empty homes tax working

Last Updated Feb 7, 2020 at 4:29 pm PDT

FILE - Homes are pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Vancouver's mayor notes the success of the empty homes tax

Kennedy Stewart says the tax has made more rental units available

A UBC business professor agrees the tax impacted rentals in Vancouver

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver’s empty homes tax is returning homes and condos that were once sitting empty to renters, according to the mayor.

New numbers released by the city show more and more homes that were once sitting empty are now being lived in. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says it clearly shows the tax is returning empty homes to the rental market.

“The evidence we’re seeing, both through our analysis at the city and by a panel of experts that have been helping us sift through this data, has shown a very good indication that renters are back in these units,” he says. “But, in some cases for sure, there may be some people who have sold their condos and now they may be occupied, the goal of this to get those units filled up.”

The tax was originally brought in as a way to force people who own property that is sitting vacant to rent it out.

Tom Davidoff, Associate Professor at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, says a higher availability of rentals in Vancouver is most likely due to the tax.

“The evidence, I think, is the growth rate of rental prices has slowed down. Rents were growing faster as far as any data I see in the years leading up to the implementation of the tax,” he says, noting it is difficult to know how demand would have moved without the tax. However, he says a “large number of homes moved out of empty status so were sold or started to be rented.”

Davidoff adds the tax seems to have helped condo buyers too since there are more condos on the market than there were before the tax.

“While we’re moving in the right direction, I want to see even more empty homes rented out and that’s why we’re increasing the tax to 1.25 per cent for the 2020 tax year,” Stewart says. “Homes are for people, not speculation, and I hope this higher penalty will provide even more of an incentive for owners of empty properties to make sure they are occupied.

While at a Mayors’ conference in Ottawa, Stewart says other mayors expressed interest in implementing their own version of the tax.

The tax was 1 per cent for the first two years.

Since the program started, vacant properties have gone down 14.6 per cent from 2018 and 30 per cent from 2017, the first year the program started.

A total of 787 homes were declared vacant in Vancouver for 2019.