Written on September 14, 2016 by Tim Louis

The mayor’s empty home tax is not well considered, and it will not ensure more affordable housing for Vancouver renters.

At long last Mayor Robertson has announced a tax to encourage owners of empty residential properties in Vancouver to put these on the rental market. This would be great news if the plan had been well thought out and actually had the impact it was expected to have.

But as has been the case with so many of Mayor Robertson’s housing / homelessness announcements in the past, this plan is not well considered, nor will it deliver a measurable impact.

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The mayor’s tax, announced today, is only aimed at property owners who leave their property empty year-round. And while this is just the initial framework (public consultations will be held later), it looks like there are already way too many exceptions. If the homeowner is a snowbird and leaves the property empty six months of the year then the mayor’s proposed tax does not apply. If this hypothetical snowbird really enjoys vacationing all around the world and lives in his or her Vancouver residence only one month a year, the tax does not apply. City hall staff have also suggested that some owners be exempted, such as those in condos that don’t allow rentals or those doing renos.

We also don’t know whether the tax will apply to online marketplaces like Airbnb. The mayor also announced today that later this fall regulations are going to be put in place to control Airbnb. However, here’s the catch: Will today’s tax be waived if the homeowner puts the property on Airbnb and complies with the upcoming regulations?

While I commend the mayor for finally trying to regulate Airbnb, I would be very concerned if a homeowner who rents his or her property out a few times a year to Airbnb, but leaves it vacant the rest of the year, is exempted from today’s tax just because she or he is complying with the new Airbnb regs.

The takeaway is this. We won’t know until the fall Airbnb regs come out, at the earliest, whether or not they’ve even got this part right.

The mayor also announced today that all monies generated by this new tax would be reinvested in affordable housing. As readers of this blog are well aware of, Vision Vancouver very cynically redefined affordable housing quite some time ago. It used to be that the City of Vancouver used the long-standing definition of affordable housing, which was geared to income whereby the renter would pay no more than one-third of their income in rent. This is no longer the definition used by the city — market rentals are now considered to be affordable housing.

It’s so unfortunate that Mayor Robertson has developed a track record of using the housing crisis as a vehicle to campaign on rather than actually solving the problem. His latest announcement is yet another example of that.

Great headlines over the last few days leading up to today’s announcement. Great headlines from today’s announcement. But, sadly, the announcement itself is all sizzle and no steak. Renters will be no better off tomorrow with this tax in place than they were yesterday without it.

Empty home tax: All sizzle, no steak