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Vancouver sets off into the choppy waters with an empty-homes tax, one of a few cities around world

September 15th, 2016 · 2 Comments

So here we go. Vancouver will become the first city in Canada and one of a very select group around the world to charge an empty-homes tax as a way of trying to curb the effects of speculative investment and to get some housing stock back on the market.

I wrote two stories this week on same, one a look at a particular case of an empty house on the west side — presumably the kind of place that will be targeted — and the complicated story behind it. The other, post-announcement, offered assessments from experts about how effective this new tax that relies on self-reporting is likely to be, considering the city does not have the clout, jailing power, or staff of the Canada Revenue Agency.

The tax is already drawing strong responses. Tom Davidoff says it’s great. The official COPE Twitter account sneers at Mayor Gregor Robertson for stealing their idea. Longtime COPE activist Tim Louis says the tax is weak and ineffective. Friends of mine are laughing bitterly at the idea that people will voluntarily report something that could cost them tens of thousands of dollars a year in extra taxes.

We’ll see. As the mayor says, the move is partly symbolic, a signal that Vancouver is not as open for business as it once was. And it’s far from unique. Other cities, which have also seen the numbers of vacant apartments go up while they’re experiencing a shortage of housing, have been looking at vacancy taxes or actually implementing them. Jerusalem doubled the taxes on “ghost apartments” earlier this year, to the dismay of the local construction industry, whose people said the country had invited people, mainly wealthy American Jews, to invest in just that kind of housing.


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