Kitchener council throws support behind vacant home tax proposal
Staff asked to consider tax feasibility and report back by June 2022
The City of Kitchener hopes a tax on vacant residential units will help tackle the housing crisis in the region.
On Monday, city councillors voted in favour of an additional charge to landlords who choose not to rent out the buildings they own — an investment practice that's seen to be contributing to the lack of affordable and available homes in the region.
The motion also asked staff to consult with regional council about implementing the tax in area municipalities as well.
"We still need to increase our supply for housing. So basically, this is just a way of tackling the supply side from a different angle, rather than just looking at building more units," said Ward 10 Coun. Sarah Marsh, who pitched the motion. "I think that we also need to look at existing units that are underutilized or unused."
City staff were asked to consider the feasibility of the tax and report back to council before June 2022.
In July, the City of Toronto council approved the creation of a vacant home tax that will be put in place in 2022. Other Ontario cities, including Ottawa and Hamilton, are looking at similar measures.
In 2019, the vacancy rate for Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo decreased to 2.1 per cent, according to the Rental Market Report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The report said lower vacancy rates were a result of strong population growth.
Marsh said many people are purchasing homes as investment opportunities without renting them out.
"Houses are not meant to only be a tool for investment, they are also meant to be lived in. So if it's your tool for investment, rent it out as well," she said. "This is a small, tiny attempt to help toward levelling the playing field."
Marsh said, if implemented, there would be a grace period for landlords who keep properties vacant for things like repairs or renovations.
The motion comes amid growing calls for housing supports following the regional-led eviction of an occupied encampment in Kitchener on Nov. 26.