Out-of-control housing costs, chronic transit issues, and far too many marginalized communities and voices: for all its natural beauty and advantages, Vancouver has become a stressful place to live, work, and take care of your family.
Despite the near-zero vacancy rate in Vancouver, up to one-quarter of dwelling units are unoccupied. There are many reasons why a home may be empty: some are vacation units, others are second homes, and others are properties awaiting permitting for redevelopment; some are speculative investment properties, condos, and houses that are thought of as commodities, rather than a social good.
It doesn’t matter where the owners come from: some speculative investors are Vancouver residents, while others are buyers from other parts of Canada and around the world. What matters is the effect on our city, and what we choose to do about it.
No matter the reasons for all these empty dwellings, our housing market and neighbourhoods are distorted. Housing is unaffordable for residents who cannot live near jobs and amenities. It also has a negative impact on the local economy, as businesses suffer in neighbourhoods that should be much more vibrant. Rather than streets populated with children playing, people out gardening, and families and friends out in their communities, we have—in some neighbourhoods—empty streets.
City council is reportedly looking to hire a consultant to investigate how many homes are empty, and why. It’s very late, but a necessary step: the true test of council will be what they do with the data.
We believe that the city should establish an empty dwelling levy that would double the effective property tax rate to disincentivize holding empty dwellings. Revenue generated from the empty dwelling levy will be transferred to the Vancouver Housing Authority to develop new affordable housing. Similar policies exist or are being developed in cities throughout the world.
Critics will claim that it’s too difficult to assess whether a home is empty, and that there are sometimes good reasons for a home to be empty. Of course it isn’t simple, but this is a challenge that we need to undertake. Too much is at stake: the vibrancy and livability of our city means that working people, families, seniors, and marginalized people need places to live that they can afford.
There may be thousands of units already here, just waiting. We’d like them to be occupied.