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Owners of Empty Vancouver Homes Will Finally Have to Pay Up

Wealthy homeowners are getting a special tax. But it probably won't make life any better for renters.
July 11, 2016, 9:00pm

Uh, anybody home? Photo via Flickr user W&J

Anyone who has picked up newspaper in 2016 has probably read about Vancouver's messed up housing market and how it's only getting worse. Over and over the headlines say home prices are way higher than incomes, young people are leaving en masse, baby boomers who already own homes are getting super rich, and the market bonanza shows no sign of slowing down.

In the middle of all this housing hysteria, British Columbia's government has now promised to pass legislation that will allow the city to tax vacant homes. And while many are cheering the announcement, others say the move is still not enough to stop out-of-control market speculation.

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Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson asked the province to help implement a vacancy tax last month. At the time, Robertson said there were over 10,000 houses and condos sitting empty year-round.

"Those empty homes would add a badly needed supply to our rental housing stock," he told media in June. A tax on those properties would encourage investors to rent them out, and money collected from the new tax will fund affordability initiatives, he said.

This morning, BC Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced the government will sit during the summer to make the vacant home tax a reality and end the self-regulation of real estate in the province.

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"If Vancouver wants to do this, our view is they should have the clear statutory ability to do so," de Jong told the Globe and Mail.

Robertson said the tax was a step in the right direction. He said people who are wealthy enough to keep houses empty should be able to pay the tax. "If we can prove the model is effective in Vancouver, than other communities can do the same," he said Monday.

Obviously not everybody was happy with the announcement. NDP housing critic David Eby said the province was passing responsibility down to the city.

"Another disappointment," Eby tweeted shortly after de Jong's address. "After a three month legislative session denying a regional crisis, now we go back so they can pass a law to ask Vancouver's mayor to act."

Robertson has also repeatedly asked the province to implement a flipping tax, which the BC Liberal government has so far rejected. The province has previously said a tax on flipping or speculation would hurt homeowners' equity.

Translation: baby boomers won't make as much money off the dirt their houses sit on.

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