Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver website eyes city's empty homes
Vancouver mayoral aspirants have offered mixed opinions about a blog site that suggests that a “wave of squatting” might spur municipal action on vacant homes.
Kirk LaPointe of the Non-Partisan Association, independent Bob Kasting, and Meena Wong of the Coalition of Progressive Electors were asked what they think about Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver. Launched in late August, the site suggests that if enough people undertake “adverse possession” of these houses, the city may do something.
“In lieu of a wave of squatting, the City could charge punitive property taxes (more than the current assessment) for empty residential and commercial property across the City,” the site states. “This would encourage owners to ensure homes are lived in until they are demolished.”
LaPointe, a former media manager, said that first he wants to know first how many homes are vacant across the city before talking about policy. “It’s way better if the city has a very quick, solid examination after the election about the extent of this issue,” LaPointe told the Georgia Straight by phone, “and then have an independent panel provide recommendations on what to do about it so that the city can then be guided by facts and not just by impressions and anecdotes.”
Asked how he would react to people squatting in empty homes, LaPointe said: “I think even on the blog itself, the idea of repossession was a bit tongue-in-cheek. You really can’t legally do that.”
Kasting, a lawyer, noted that homeowners who can afford to let a property sit idle could manage to pay an extra cost. However, the issue of vacant homes is low on Kasting’s list of priorities for housing in Vancouver.
“Top of the list has got to be getting a bigger, deeper rental pool,” Kasting told the Straight by phone.
Kasting also wants to address the demolition of perfectly fine homes to make way for new development. “By bulldozing houses, you certainly don’t create more affordable places to live,” he said.
Wong, a community organizer, said that Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver raised issues that tie in with what COPE has been saying all along.
COPE wants to set up a registry to track the city’s housing stock. Through its proposed housing authority, COPE says, it will provide incentives for landlords who rent out their properties at affordable rates. Empty homes will be charged a vacancy levy.
Wong emphasized that the left-leaning party isn’t against property owners, whether local or foreign, who acquire homes other than the ones they live in. “We welcome investments to the city, but we want to make sure they also contribute to the building of our neighbourhood,” Wong told the Straight by phone.
James Macdonald is one of the people behind the Beautiful Empty Homes site, an urban planner who has worked on international projects. The Dunbar resident’s interests include how governments can enable housing initiatives.
According to Macdonald, if municipalities like Vancouver can make developers happy by changing zoning regulations, then they should also make the effort to modify rules to ensure that homes are lived in. “Homes are for people, not rats,” Macdonald told the Straight by phone. “By letting people just hold the land and let the house rot, it’s actually making the house for rats, not people.”
He also clarified that Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver is not really encouraging people to squat in empty homes, which is against the law.
“We’re only asking people to experiment with their common-law rights to adverse possession,” Macdonald said. He added: “It’s suggested as an option, if nothing happens.”
Subject to a jurisdiction’s statute of limitations, “adverse possession” is a doctrine that confers ownership of someone else’s property after occupation for a certain period of time. In B.C., the right or title to land by adverse possession is no longer recognized, except for those acquired before July 1, 1975.
Coun. Geoff Meggs, the go-to person for housing issues within the ruling Vision Vancouver party, didn’t make himself available for an interview before the Straight’s deadline.
Stanley Q Woodvine
Sep 24, 2014 at 10:59am
Homeless folk have been squatting in homes and buildings like these for years.
I personally had longtime usage of building slated for demolition: the former Legion office on Arbutus Street.
For some months I slept in the covered walkway. But one morning I woke up to find a key on a windowsill beside me. It was the key to the front door.
I stayed there for another two seasons. scrubbed the insides & painted over graffiti on the outside.
Some of my neighbours came by out of curiosity and concern and left happy with my occupancy -- I'm still friendly with some of them.
But one family around the corner took a strong disliking to the situation and when they saw I was unmoved by threats complained to the landlord who then couldn't let me stay there anymore.
I believe it was the landlord who left me the key though he vigorously denied it.
I keep in mind that the outcry over unoccupied homes has little to do with really poor and unhoused people.
It was a developer who let me squat in their empty building and it was ordinary folk who demanded I get kicked out.
Now the same sort of ordinary folks who would normally call the police if they saw homeless people squatting in an empty building are themselves feeling the pinch housing-wise to the extent that *they* want to squat in the empty buildings themselves?
Sep 24, 2014 at 11:08am
I'm sure many of the owners are purposefully letting heritage homes rot until they can claim they're beyond saving. It's a form of fraud.
Sep 24, 2014 at 11:28am
Any person or society that allows such homes to rot is both morally and culturally bankrupt. Perhaps our current politicians are confused - heads- up - progressive does not actually mean trendy. The pictures on the website are heartbreaking.
Sep 24, 2014 at 11:40am
The comments on this posting are going to be unbelievable. What's next, a blog devoted to shaming people for not using their undeveloped land properly? "Dammit there should be a mini-mall, park, grocery store, housing developement etc on that patch of grass/dirt that you pay property taxes on." Who's to say these vacant homes would even have rentable suites in them to occupy. This is all assumption! Give me break, the person paying exhorbitant taxes on a property in Shaugnessy should be penalized further because someone ( who probably couldn't afford the rent anyway) isn't able to have the opportunity to rent.
Sep 24, 2014 at 12:14pm
"What's next, a blog devoted to shaming people for not using their undeveloped land properly?"
Yes, speculative holding of empty lots in a dense, well-serviced urban area with a housing shortage is also pretty questionable.
Next in line to shame should be the owners of light-industrial and commercial spaces that leave them empty (or demand unrealistic terms to ensure they stay empty), for reasons of speculation or to fraudulently pressure the city to rezone.
Sep 24, 2014 at 12:28pm
It is quite easy to identify vacant and deteriorating houses.
But what about empty condos being held to sell for profit at some time in the future?
How will they be identified?
Once a condo is purchased and the door locked-who knows?
What system will be used?
Will they: inspect hydro bills for low usage, question strata councils, go over property taxes to identify absentee owners etc etc.??
What's to stop owners from saying that their condo is empty 'cause that they had to leave town for work, family reasons etc. etc.
Who's going to determine who's telling the truth and who's not?
Politicians talk about taxing empty condos being held for speculation but how are they going to do it? This seems to be the question.
Sep 24, 2014 at 12:41pm
"In B.C., the right or title to land by adverse possession is no longer recognized, except for those acquired before July 1, 1975."
Well, that statute may be incompatible with the charter. Really, people have no personal security if they can not acquire title to unused lands. Unless they are born into money, they have one choice: rent their existence from those born into money. The act of evicting a homeless person who is not disrupting the non-existent use of a building may be a breach of his charter rights---there is an appellate decision that says this is true of parks, but parks have competing uses, so it is legitimate to say "take the tent down at dawn" so that others can use the park.
Real estate speculation is not a legitimate use when people are harmless any more than hoarding food is legitimate when people are starving.
You acquired your title by descent from Noah, who re-entered the dry land and seized it for the use of himself and his family for all posterity. The entire world belongs to the family of Noah. That title is superior to any corporate title in a johnny-come-lately corporate land registry. Noah didn't just file paperwork; he built an ark and saved his family (us) from the flood!
Everyone has shared title to the whole earth through Noah, dating from the specific date he re-entered the dry land:
"By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth...By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry."
Noah re-enters the dry land on the twenty-seventh day of the second month of the year 601 Noah. Nobody has a better title.
Sep 24, 2014 at 1:01pm
@ Is it?
What does an ancient Hebrew fairy tale have to do with this topic?
Sep 24, 2014 at 2:18pm
"In the beginning of the world, we are informed by holy writ, the all-bountiful creator gave to man “dominion over all “the earth; and over the fifh of the fea, and over the fowl of “the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth a.” This is the only true and folid foundation of man's dominion over external things, whatever airy metaphyfical notions may have been ftarted by fanciful writers upon this fubject. The earth therefore, and all things therein, are the general property of all mankind, exclufive of other beings, from the immediate gift of the creator." (2 Bl Comm. 2-3)
That "ancient Hebrew fairy tale" is the basis of land title, at least amongst the English speaking people. Or, if you don't believe such a thing ever happened, that is fine, but you should not believe in land title at all precisely because it is such a "fairy tale" notion.
Pretty much everyone wants durable title to things that lasts longer than occupation of the substance; they want property in uses that run over/with things, as it were. Now, you are right, I have switched stories here, because the bible gives a regnal day and date of Noah's re-entry, which means it was on a certain day that our family retook possession of the earth. This story is quite compatible with most people's land title systems: entry into previously unoccupied land is the basic way that people tend to give the first property in use. Then, depending on custom, that use is either inherited or devised in various ways. But the first entry is what establishes the initial use, if you want to believe in property in uses.
So, to answer your question, these fairy tales, even if taken as such, demonstrate how much of the politics of land title is manufactured out of whole cloth, always for some party's advantage. In the case of our land title system here in Vancouver, there is clear abuse: no reasonable people ever set up a land title system to protect foreign investment at the expense of the local population. That tends to be called an "occupation" and is looked down on, by reasonable people.
But hey, I know most of you aren't reasonable; you have trouble believing in fairy tales as such...
Sep 24, 2014 at 4:53pm
and not one of the candidates even bothers to mention that maybe just MAYBE these homes are being kept vacant so the owners can quickly sell them in a hot market lol the uselessness of politicians in general except maintaining vancitys status quo is just so obvious yet no one gives a fk hahahaha