Windsor asking residents about possible vacant residential property tax

Windsor will consider implementing a vacant residential property tax in the spring, to give vacant home owners incentive to sell or rent out their properties and address the housing crisis.   (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Windsor will consider implementing a vacant residential property tax in the spring, to give vacant home owners incentive to sell or rent out their properties and address the housing crisis. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Windsor is considering an extra tax on vacant residential properties, with the goal of pushing owners to either sell or rent to add housing stock to the market.

Windsor's deputy treasurer Janice Guthrie said the details of the proposed tax, including the rate, haven't been worked out yet and residents will be able to offer their thoughts through a survey.

"There is no limitation on what the percentage can be. It must be a percentage of the home's assessed value. Currently, we are looking at options that range from one per cent and can go up to two per cent," she said.

The proposed tax will be brought in front of city council in the spring, when the survey is complete.

Guthrie said the city could have anywhere between 250 and 500 vacant homes out of an estimated 80,000 residential properties. Despite the small percentage of homes the tax would open up, Guthrie said it's worth it.

"Even though it is a small number, we feel that even if one house becomes a place that somebody can call home, that is a success," she said.

Tax meant to address housing crisis

In 2017 the provincial government gave municipalities the power to enact a vacant home tax as part of Ontario's Fair Housing Plan.

City council approved a plan to develop and implement a vacant home tax in 2021.

Ward 2 Coun. Fabio Costante said he put forward the idea of Windsor adopting a vacant residential home tax in 2019.

Costante's ward is in the west end of Windsor, where there are a number of vacant properties. He said it's important to understand what type of vacant properties the tax will aim to address.

"This tax does not target primary or principal residences. It targets investors and landlords and property owners that have secondary, tertiary, or a bunch of properties that they don't live in as a primary residence and they're not… renting out," he said.

Costante said the vacant residential property tax would be a way for the city to "utilize all the tools in the toolbox to encourage property owners to activate these units."

Guthrie said the tax is meant to address the housing crisis and is not meant to create revenue for the city.

"We are trying to encourage homeowners or property owners to utilize their homes for the purpose of housing," she said.

"If this program were to work as intended, we would not have vacant homes and therefore we would not have a revenue stream."

'One piece of the puzzle'

Costante said the housing tax will not "solve the housing crisis alone," but it is an important step forward.

"This is one piece to the puzzle and I'm hopeful that once we get through the consultation phase, that we will in the coming months implement this bylaw," he said.

"I'm hoping that it does move the needle a bit on providing available units to those who need them."

The city's survey is completely anonymous and runs until Feb. 19.

Once the plan is approved, Guthrie said the city hopes "to have self declaration forms available to the public and to residents in the fall so that we can then start our process, which would be imposing the tax in 2024 based upon the status of the property in 2023."