Toronto considering taxing vacant homes in bid to cool red-hot housing market

Toronto Mayor John Tory is asking city staff to investigate the impact of taxing homes that sit vacant as a way of making more homes available and cooling the city's red-hot real estate market — an idea the provincial finance minister seems open to as well.

Provincial Finance Minister Charles Sousa seems open to the idea

Mayor John Tory vows to speed up housing approval process and investigate implementing a vacant home tax. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory is asking city staff to investigate the impact of taxing homes that sit vacant as a way of making more homes available and cooling the city's red-hot real estate market — an idea the provincial finance minister seems open to as well.

Tory told reporters about the proposal after a meeting Thursday with experts in the real estate, banking, business and housing sectors.

He cited census data that suggests there are as many as 65,000 homes empty in the city right now and his officials will now sift through city data such as hydro and housing bills to find a more accurate number.

"That is a very significant number and it is a number of homes that, if they are vacant or are not on the market ... that has an impact on prices," Tory said.

Tory said officials would look to Vancouver for a blueprint.

Starting this year, owners of homes deemed empty in Vancouver must pay an annual tax of one per cent of the property's assessed value.

That means a $1-million home left vacant would be taxed $10,000.

'Should be paying their fair share'

While Tory wants to explore the vacant home tax, "this would likely require provincial intervention, either a regulatory change or an amendment to the City of Toronto Act," said a written statement from the mayor's office.

At least one senior member of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's government seems receptive to the idea.

"We know that demand is high. Supply is not keeping pace and if there are a number of vacancies that are out there then they should be paying their fair share," Finance Minister Charles Sousa said.

Mayor vows to speed up approval process

Tory called Thursday's conversation with housing experts an "excellent, very constructive meeting," and also emerged pledging to speed up the approvals process for planning applications and building permits.

A beefed-up staff of city planners is one way the city will be able to do it, the mayor said.

There was "a broad consensus" that lack of housing supply was the big factor leading to skyrocketing home prices in Toronto, Tory said.

The city saw a 29.8 per cent jump in the average price of detached homes from February 2016 to February 2017, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.

The average detached home price in the city is $1,573,622. the board says.

"I'm not interested in measures which create the false impression of an instant total solution, nor am I interested in risky measures which would imperil our economy," Tory said.

Empty homes are a 'waste,' homeowner says 

At least one homeowner that CBC Toronto spoke to applauds the idea of a vacant homes tax.

Jacques Lavoie, who has lived in the same Riverdale neighbourhood for two decades, said a home around the corner from his property on Dundas Street East has sat empty for at least the last five years.

Jacques Lavoie points to a home in Riverdale he says has sat vacant for at least five years. (CBC)

"It seems like its a waste, considering the issues of density and people trying to find a home," Lavoie said. 

"I worry the values have gone up so much ... If I was in a situation where I was 20 years ago, when I was looking for a house, I don't know, I wouldn't have bought a house. I wouldn't have been able," he said.


Chris Glover

CBC News Reporter

Chris Glover has been a reporter, anchor and producer with CBC News for a decade. He’s an award winning storyteller, who has travelled the country in search of fascinating characters with compelling stories to share on TV, radio and online. A series he helped spearhead at CBC Toronto, No Fixed Address, won a national RTDNA award in 2017 and the municipal election special he anchored in 2018 was just nominated for an RTDNA award for best live special.


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