Councillors call for vacancy tax, foreign buyer tax in Victoria

Two Victoria city councillors have proposed adding taxes on foreign home buyers and empty homes in the Capital Region District as a way to improve housing affordability.

Rentals, home ownership 'out of reach' for ordinary people

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt says the number of unoccupied condominiums in Victoria is unknown but says unoccupied units increase pressure on home prices and rental supply. (Google Street View)

Two Victoria city councillors are calling on the province to extend the foreign home buyers tax to the capital region and grant municipalities the power to tax vacant homes.

Council is slated to debate the proposal by Coun. Ben Isitt and Coun. Jeremy Loveday at its next meeting on Jan. 19.

 "We're hearing substantial concern from the public about the housing affordability crisis in our region," Isitt told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

In November, the City of Vancouver passed Canada's first tax on empty homes. It will assess a one per cent tax on homes that are not primary residences or aren't rented out at least six months of the year.

Increase in foreign buyers

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt says the proposed taxes could make housing more affordable in his city.

Isitt said the B.C. government would have to grant the power to Victoria and other Capital Region municipalities to impose their own vacancy tax.

In August, the province introduced a 15 per cent tax on foreign nationals in Metro Vancouver. That sent the number of transactions involving foreign buyers from 2,034 deals in the seven-week period before the tax, to 60 in the four weeks starting when then the tax was implemented.

But, the number of foreign buyers purchasing property in the Capital Regional District increased in two months following the tax. 

Isitt said a tax on foreign buyers in the CRD would level the playing field in the residential real estate market between Vancouver and Victoria. 

Escalating prices, rents

Any measure that tames the housing market would be helpful, Isitt said, "given how much escalation we've seen in the price of homes, both rental and homes for purchase."

"We're hearing that rental housing is going beyond the reach of many employees and their ability to pay," he said. "We're also hearing that affordable home ownership is increasingly out of the reach of ordinary people."

This is one of nearly two dozen vacant residential buildings monitored by the City of Victoria. (Google Street View)

Isitt said there is no clear estimate of the number of unoccupied condominiums in Victoria but they could number in the hundreds.

Meanwhile the city is monitoring nearly two dozen vacant and derelict buildings including a number of single-family houses and multi-unit residences.