British Columbia

Mayor Gregor Robertson meets with B.C. Finance Minister to discuss empty home tax

The province says it will consider Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's proposal for a tax on empty homes, but cautions that a number of solutions need to be in place to help cool the city's red-hot housing market.

Both parties agreed more housing needed to alleviate city's housing woes

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (left) met with B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong on June 27 to discuss a proposed tax on empty homes that led to the rare summer legislative session. (CBC)

The province says it will consider Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's proposal for a tax on empty homes but cautions that a number of solutions need to be in place to help cool the city's red-hot housing market.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said he and Robertson had "productive, candid conversations" at Premier Christy Clark's office in Vancouver to discuss the proposed tax on Monday afternoon. 

"I don't think there's a single solution and I think the mayor and I agree on that," de Jong said. "Ultimately, when there is a housing shortage and demand is outstripping supply, we have to build more housing." 

Robertson has argued his tax would potentially free up more homes for the city's tight rental market, which currently has a vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent, by creating a financial incentive for home owners to rent out their empty property.

"We see an opportunity to get thousands of units available for rental housing," Robertson said. 

No plans to alleviate demand

De Jong said neither the province nor the city's goal was to alleviate demand for housing — both said they want to continue to attract newcomers to Vancouver.

"We like the fact that people are coming from other parts of Canada, other parts of the world to live in Vancouver, create jobs," de Jong said, citing the province's bustling economy as the main driver for demand. 

He said the challenge for cities like Vancouver is how to balance the need to build new homes with criticism from neighbourhoods opposed to new development projects.

Neither Robertson nor de Jong offered any details on how the city and the province would determine what constitutes an empty home. The pair agreed to "attempt to carve out a proposal" around the parameters for the tax over the next two weeks, as well as how it would be put in place and monitored.

Then the provincial cabinet will make a decision on whether the tax is the best way to alleviate some of the affordability struggles people looking to live in Metro Vancouver are having. 

Robertson said he'll be speaking with the mayor of Melbourne, Australia, whose city is dealing with a similar housing crunch, to compare notes. 

"We are seeing and hearing about this in many big cities around the world right now. Housing supply is a real challenge, affordability is a real challenge," he said.

If the city can't reach an agreement with the province by August, Robertson said, it will put its own tax in place by creating a business tax on empty homes. 

With files from Richard Zussman

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