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.