British Columbia

$4 a home to create more affordable housing: Metro Vancouver takes 1st step on new tax

Hhousing services general manager Ravi Chhina says the tax could create an extra 500 units of housing in the next decade on vacant land currently owned by local governments. 

Automatic property tax levy would allow improvements to aging rental housing stock, housing committee says

Metro Vancouver operates rental housing properties throughout Metro Vancouver, but many of them are decades old and vacancy rates are below one per cent. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Would you pay $4 more a year to help build more affordable housing?    

It's something homeowners from Lions Bay to Langley may soon be doing, after Metro Vancouver's housing committee endorsed a measure that would raise $4 million annually for its housing corporation. 

According to housing services general manager Ravi Chhina, that could create an extra 500 units of housing in the next decade on vacant land currently owned by local governments. 

If passed by the full Metro Vancouver board later this month and implemented in next year's budget, it would work out to about $4 a home.  

"What it means is that there's more housing for the middle class," he said. "It's helping some families that are struggling right now to live within the region."

Metro Vancouver currently operates 49 sites providing  housing for more than 9,000 people. Most of the housing units are two or three-bedroom homes in Vancouver, New Westminster, Richmond or Surrey, with rent either below the area's market value or based on the renter's income. 

But many of the properties are aging and with a vacancy rate under one per cent, Chhina says, the regional government needs additional apartments to house existing tenants during renovations.  

The average annual tax for all Metro Vancouver services is $534 per household. 

The locations of the 49 housing sites operated by Metro Vancouver are predominately in Vancouver and the centre of the region, with little options in the Fraser Valley. (Metro Vancouver)

Which municipalities will benefit?

Members of the housing committee were complimentary of the proposal but wanted to know where the new housing projects would be placed — with many hoping they would go in municipalities with less purpose-built rental housing. 

"You need to find accommodations for those folks [in older buildings] when they're renovated," said Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall. 

"My fear … is those new units would stay in close [to the old buildings] to accommodate those people, their friends and their work habits."

North Vancouver City Mayor Linda Buchanan also cautioned the program would benefit larger municipalities that had vacant land available to provide to Metro Vancouver.

"We don't have a lot of land but we're development rich," she said.

"I think there just needs to be a conversation around how the model will work for some of the smaller municipalities who don't necessarily have as much land and capacity to do that."

North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan said she worried whether the fund would benefit smaller communities like hers. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Is $4 enough?

There was also a debate over whether 500 housing units and an extra $4 million a year would be enough to make a serious dent in the region's housing crisis. 

"Four dollars is a pretty small amount, and yet in the public's eyes will be seen as a tax. I wonder whether it's not enough. If we're going to tax, let's show we're doing something significant," said Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden.

"I don't see any sense in doing this small. Let's put it out there and see where it lands," added White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker. 

However, the committee agreed that the $4 million request was appropriate for the time being and hoped other levels of government would also step in.  

"Yes it's $4, and that's fairly nominal. But when we always put costs down to the household [through property taxes], it can easily get lost to what the cumulative effects are," said Buchanan. 

"It is a slippery slope when we continually take on the responsibilities of other levels of government."

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