City of West Vancouver wants power to impose own vacancy tax

West Vancouver has a large number of foreign homeowners and while these owners are subject to the province's speculation tax, the city's mayor wants the municipality to have the power to tax them further. 

Mayor Mary-Ann Booth says the city would like to receive direct revenue from the provincial speculation vacancy tax, as well as have the right to impose an additional vacancy tax on top of the provincial one to create more affordable housing. 

"This is a real problem," Booth said in a phone interview with CBC's The Early Edition, adding West Vancouver has 1,700 empty homes, which is equivalent to 10 per cent of its total housing stock.

Booth said a municipal tax, similar to the City of Vancouver's, could provide more revenue to help fund affordable housing initiatives.

Shutterstock / Nadia Yong

Provincial numbers

On Sept. 12, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James announced more than 15 per cent of provincial properties owned by foreign nationals are generating speculation tax. 

According to the government's assessment, West Vancouver is one of the municipalities disproportionately affected by the speculation tax, but James gave no indication the tax would be altered to address the disparity moving forward.

James said affected families had a simple solution if they didn't want to pay the tax in the future: 

"It provides an opportunity to encourage people to rent out their homes, to encourage them not to leave them vacant. It's not simply the number of people … it's the indicator of people who may be motivated to rent out their property," she said. 

Spin-off problems

Booth said when homes remain vacant, there are ripple economic effects, such as local businesses losing out on potential customers.

She also pointed out the city has become a target for break-and-enters because the empty houses are not only expensive, but often have items of value inside of them.

Booth said the city doesn't have the power to impose its own vacancy tax under the Community Charter and would need legislative changes made by the provincial government in order to move forward.

"We would be looking at specifically targeting people that are not paying taxes in Canada that are sitting on these houses like safety deposit boxes," Booth said.

To hear the complete interview with Mayor Mary-Ann Booth, see the audio link below: