Empty homes tax not helping rental crisis, generating millions more for Vancouver: report

It was supposed to help Vancouver's rental crisis but in the first year of the EHT's implementation, the city's vacancy rate rose by just 0.1 per cent.

Vacancy rate rose only 0.1% in first year of EHT implementation, but city hoping it will change over time

Vancouver's dense downtown area has the highest number of empty or exempt homes at 2,097. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Vancouver's empty homes tax was supposed to help lessen the rental crunch by motivating owners of empty and under-utilized properties to put them on market.

But, in its first year of implementation, the tax appears to be be doing little to achieve its stated goal, while putting millions more dollars than expected into City of Vancouver coffers.

Numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation show a mere 0.1 per cent increase in the city's primary market vacancy rate in 2017 — rising from 0.8 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

A total of 7,923 Vancouver properties were declared empty or exempt. (City of Vancouver)

That's less than the 0.2 per cent increase in the vacancy rate across the rest of the Lower Mainland region, where there is no empty homes tax. 

$38M in revenue

Meanwhile, revenue from the tax is expected to generate $38 million for the city in its first year of implementation, $8 million more than was originally projected. 

Vancouver's director of financial services said the city is monitoring the effects of the program.

"For sure, it's the first year of the program so we expect people's rental behaviour might change over time," said Melanie Kerr. "In addition, the rental market in Vancouver is complex and it's difficult to isolate the impact of one factor like [the empty homes tax.]"

The empty homes tax is levied at one per cent of the assessed property value per year. Homeowners must make an annual declaration about properties that are not principal residences or rented for at least half the year. An exemption can be granted for things like construction and renovations.

According to the latest figures, the Shaughnessy neighbourhood has the highest proportion of empty or exempt properties at eight per cent, followed by the West End at seven per cent, and Downtown and Oakridge at six per cent.

Sunset had the lowest proportion of empty or exempt homes at two per cent.

Sunrise over the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood of Vancouver, where only three per cent of properties were declared vacant or exempt. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Downtown, which includes the many condo towers of Coal Harbour and Yaletown, has the highest number of empty or exempt properties at 2,097.

Of Vancouver's total 186,043 homes, 2,538 were declared empty, with another 5,385 granted exempt status.

Condominiums make up 60 per cent of the exempt or vacant properties, while single family homes account for 34 per cent.

Revenue from the empty homes tax has been earmarked for affordable housing initiatives. So far, $7.5 million has been spent to cover the implementation of the tax and another $2.5 million in 2018 administration costs.  

City council has so far allocated $8 million to various projects.