British Columbia

Vancouver real estate: vacant home rate flat since 2002, says city report

The rate of unoccupied homes in Vancouver has remained flat over the last 14 years despite worries investors are buying homes and leaving them empty.

90% of empty housing units in Vancouver are condominiums, according to report released today

Single homes near Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park appear tightly stacked in a telephoto close-up photograph.
A neighbourhood full of single-family homes near Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth park. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The percentage of vacant homes in Vancouver has remained flat over the last 14 years despite longstanding complaints that investors are buying homes and leaving them empty, according to a new report released this morning to city council.

The report says Vancouver's non-occupancy rate was 4.9 per cent in 2002 compared with 4.8 per cent in 2014, which is line with other big Canadian cities.

The report on Vacant Housing Units Research was presented to council by Matt Bourke, a housing planner with the city, and Bruce Townson, CEO of Ecotagious, a company that analyzed home energy use.

Although the city's non-occupancy rate hasn't budged much in the last 14 years, the authors said the total number of empty homes has increased because the size of Vancouver's overall housing stock has grown too.

The interest in the number of Vancouver's vacant homes stems from a concern that they might be driving up housing costs.

Most empty units are apartments

The study found that more than 90 per cent of the city's 10,800 empty housing units were apartments.

While the report appears to contradict the notion that Vancouver has a serious problem with vacant homes, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the issue is still troubling.

"It's unacceptable that so many homes are left empty at a time so many of our residents are struggling to find appropriate housing," Robertson said in a statement.

"Housing needs to be first and foremost for people to live in, not to be treated as a commodity."

The city and policy analysts have long argued more data is needed to determine the cause of the region's hot housing market — an argument the provincial government recently said it agrees with. 

The report came as a surprise to observers such as planner and architect Michael Geller, who thought it would shed light on what's fuelling Vancouver hot real estate market.

"What the study seems to indicate is that indeed Vancouver is not that much different than other municipalities," said Geller. He added that perhaps hype from the real estate industry and media have helped fuel rising prices.

The study looked at 225,000 homes in the city of Vancouver.

The report found that non-occupancy rates in the southwest area of the city — which includes pricey neighbourhoods such as Shaughnessy and Kerrisdal  — have been stable, down from 3.6 per cent in 2002 to 3.4 per cent in 2014.