Social Housing Alliance proposes municipalities seize vacant property

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      A grassroots organization wants municipalities to seize “abandoned, neglected, and derelict properties”.

      In its proposed action plan for civic politicians running in the election next month, the Social Housing Alliance also recommends the preservation of these properties for “senior government housing programs in the future”.

      Organizer Ivan Drury acknowledged that this may easily be the most controversial of the measures his group will outline in a “town-hall rally” at the Bonsor Recreation Complex in Burnaby on Thursday (October 16), starting at 7 p.m. “Buildings should be seen as places where people can live and not as investment or development-potential sites for a very small minority of people to make a lot of money,” Drury told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      The Social Housing Alliance is proposing several courses of action for municipalities across B.C. These are grouped into two strategies: preserve low-income and affordable housing, and work with communities in addressing the housing problem in the province.

      Recommendations include refusing to issue renovation or demolition permits that would lead to the eviction of tenants. The group also suggests shifting city funds away from “policing and other over-funded budget priorities” to housing programs. It calls for a stop to gentrification, and one measure is for cities to turn down applications for “business licenses for shops that will harm communities vulnerable to displacement”.

      The call for city governments to take control of vacant and rundown buildings is another manifestation of the interest in unused properties, particularly in Vancouver, during the campaigns for the November 15 election.

      The online site Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver is documenting unoccupied houses. It suggests that if enough people squat in them, the city may be compelled to act, for instance by charging owners a punitive property tax. The left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors wants to track Vancouver’s housing stock and impose a tax on homes unused for one year. And the OneCity party is recommending a flipping levy on speculators, especially those who purchase properties and leave them empty to sell.

      The right-of-centre Non-Partisan Association acknowledges that a lot of people are concerned about one aspect of the perceived problem: that of nonresident or foreign investors. It has pledged to initiate a study on foreign investments if it wins back city hall.

      In the 2008 election campaign, then mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson floated the idea of taxing empty condos. The now two-term Vision Vancouver mayor has since stopped talking about it.

      In its proposed action, the Social Housing Alliance notes that cities can take vacant and derelict buildings away from their owners through bylaw fines.

      According to Drury, the Downtown Eastside’s Wonder Rooms and Palace Hotel, both of which were previously owned by notorious landlord George Wolsey, could have been good examples of how cities can increase their housing stock.

      Drury had organized tenants in the two single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels, which were infamous for their conditions. In 2011, the City of Vancouver found several bylaw violations by the Wonder Rooms; Drury said the situation was believed to have been no different in the previous years, and that went for the Palace Hotel as well.

      He noted that each violation carries a maximum fine of $2,000 per day. He said that Wolsey walked away without paying a penny and that the city could have taken the buildings instead. According to the community activist, two subsidiaries of a local property and development interest ended up acquiring the Wonder Rooms and Palace Hotel.

      Drury also pointed to the Dunsmuir Hotel as another example of why cities should think about doing something regarding unused buildings. Located at the corner of Dunsmuir and Richards streets in downtown Vancouver, the 166-unit hotel was leased by the private owner to B.C. Housing to shelter homeless people. Drury said that after the lease ended, the residents were told to leave.

      “The building is now sitting empty for two years,” Drury stated. “So is this an abandoned property or is this a property awaiting development? In my opinion, it’s an abandoned property.”




      Oct 15, 2014 at 12:06pm

      "In the 2008 election campaign, then mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson floated the idea of taxing empty condos. The now two-term Vision Vancouver mayor has since stopped talking about it."

      I think that about says it all about Vision.

      How much have they taken in developer donations since then?


      Oct 15, 2014 at 12:29pm

      Vacant properties should be taxed, BUT under no circumstance should a private property be confiscated and used as social housing just because the private owner does not feel its in their best interested to use it. If its privately owned they owner can do nothing so long as they pay their taxes.

      Im amazed at how entitle people are. "I dont like what you are choosing to do with the property that you paid for therefore the city should have the right to take it from you and give it to those that cant afford the house thing want."

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      Oct 15, 2014 at 12:33pm

      I don't own property. But if I did I would do whatever I damned well pleased with it. If I lived in it or not it's no business of some organization. How do they know what people are doing with these homes? Maybe it was all they could do to buy the place and are now living with relatives to find the repairs. Maybe they are financial buddies of Vision and waiting for their opportunity to buy up the rest of the block and destroy another neighbourhood. Either way, they own it and can do what they like with it.


      Oct 15, 2014 at 12:46pm

      Are they going to ask the neighbours of these putative homeless houses how they feel about suddenly having at risk people living beside them, or just force it on them? I say if you are going to protect areas from gentrification, then the other areas have a right to be protected from ghettoization.

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      Oct 15, 2014 at 2:09pm

      Based on his self-admitted history of being a dogged activist to the point of bullying others, Ivan Drury scares me a little bit, but his heart is always with the poor and marginalized, and there are worse places to start.

      This particular idea has some very interesting and I think visionary notions (which, ahem, I've made too), in particular the idea that real estate is not like other kinds of investments: it's not just a thing that you own and that appreciates (or depreciates), it's where people live.

      Now, the actual mechanism by which this notion would become policy is to my mind up for grabs.

      Would the state just take it away, or would they force a sale, e.g. put it in receivership, sell the property, take a cut and send the rest to the owner of record? IDK.

      You wouldn't want to be mean about it. I've been staring at a vacant (huge, four story) house across my street for like 15 years and the story is that the lady who owns it can't bear to part with it because of horrible tragedy that happened there. AFAIK she's not just sitting on it as an investment.

      But that's still property that would be easily converted into three or maybe four suites, each big enough for a young family. It seems like a shame.

      To those who think that property is something that you can do with what you like: you're wrong. I've owned property since I was 19 years old and I can tell you that there are plenty of things that you're not allowed to do with it - you can't tear it down, build it up, have loud parties after 11 pm, rent it to drug dealers, et cetera et cetera et cetera -- all rules that keep the peace and more importantly allow the land to be used as zoned.

      People who are lucky enough to have land should understand that it's important to future generations and they don't make more of itl it's irresponsible to think only of yourself.


      Oct 16, 2014 at 10:36am

      Everyone would be fine if a billionaire bought up thousands of properties in Vancouver and then left them empty?

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      Oct 16, 2014 at 8:22pm

      Completely crazy idea!!!! If it were to happen, foreign investment of all type would dry up the next day. Want 25% unemployment?

      I know it's frustrating to see empty houses but pulling a Chavez-like act would make future international trade impossible. Imagine the headline in the Chinese press "Canada seize homes of Chinese nationals without any warnings"...

      Ivan D

      Oct 16, 2014 at 11:53pm

      The city could seize apartments and SRO hotels that are in disrepair just by enforcing conditions bylaws, which add up fast. Standards of Maintenance bylaw fines are $2k/day that a violation exists, $10k/day for life threatening conditions but the City never collects. If they did they could seize properties of the worst slumlords: grow the City's social housing stock while driving slumlords out of business. Win-win!

      We could call it the Wolsey law for the injunction the Vision Council publicly announced (but never pursued) against slumlord George Wolsey for the more than $100million in bylaw fines that he piled up in an aggregate act of violence against low-income SRO residents of his two buildings. They could have taken his buildings, for example, but instead never collected a penny from him for those bylaw fines. Meanwhile, low-income people go to jail for jaywalking and vending bylaw tickets. Talk about a double standard.

      See squatter histories of London, Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen

      Oct 17, 2014 at 6:22pm

      See squatter histories of London, Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen etc.


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      Raymond Cheung

      Jul 15, 2015 at 6:24am

      The building below at 26 SE Marine Drive has been vacant, run-down, unoccupied for over 20 years or more. It is a waste. Someone should start lobby the Government to expropriate this building so that the land is not wasted.

      For each day the lot is abandoned, the government should reduce the compensation to the owner.,+Vancouver,+BC+V5X+2S3/@49.211816,-123.104459,3a,67.8y,213.35h,91.04t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sT0xwVr_WuOpgNYPj6Y7HtA!2e0!!7i13312!8i6656!4m2!3m1!1s0x548674590b7cdc55:0xcd5bbf91dbaf120f