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Many cities around Vancouver region pondering impact of “dark houses/condos” and foreign or investor capital

November 12th, 2015 · 5 Comments

An interesting debate broke out at Metro Vancouver’s planning committee meeting last Friday, which I followed up on this week.

It started with a report on affordable housing or, rather, the startling lack of it in the region. There are lots and lots of apartments being built, theoretically enough to house all the newcomers who arrive every month. Problem is, most of it is priced too high for the lower-income people who arrive. There was a 6,800-unit shortage in the 2011-2014 period.

Michael Smith of West Van then proposed a stiff tax on properties that are left vacant, which he said are eroding the sense of community there. He said he pays high taxes on his Kauai property ($20,000, he told me later) because he is a non-resident and that could be applied here. (Links to maps on “dark census tracts” on the page turn.)

It wasn’t totally clear whether he meant anyone who leaves a house vacant for a lengthy period or only non-Canadian citizens or anyone who is using a property as a second home or what. But his point was clear. (Andrea Reimer from Vancouver did challenge him on how he knew whether they were owned by foreign investors, saying he seemed to have information that no one else in the city does. And people say local-government meetings are boring.)

But Richard Stewart from Coquitlam said it’s not such a bad deal if people want to buy places, pay taxes, and then not use the services. The city ends up the winner, he suggested.

Other mayors I contacted later had a variety of opinions. My story is here.

Linda Hepner in Surrey sees the investor or foreign capital, not sure which it is, as helping build the downtown Surrey wants. Richard Walton says the dark houses are starting to show up around Edgemont Village and above in small numbers, but he doesn’t see how any government could figure out what to tax and what not to. (He has a friend in West Van with other homes that he spends much of the year at. Should that person be taxed for not residing in West Van long enough?)

Malcolm Brodie in Richmond said he’s been hearing complaints on this issue for 30 years but also can’t figure out a workable system for taxing the right group.

The discussion continues. And, for all those who asked, here is the map that shows unoccupied dwellings in the census, or “dwellings not occupied by the usual resident.” This is compliments of Jens van Bergmann, the programming-challenged reporter’s friend. And, as a bonus, here is his map showing the census tracts that had the highest levels of immigrants moving in 2006-2011, so I can facilitate a lot of amateur analysis.

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