By Laura Kane
VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government will support the city of Vancouver's request for a tax on vacant housing.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong has announced the legislature will meet July 25 to consider revisions to the Vancouver Charter that would allow the city to create and collect the tax.
De Jong said the levy is aimed at improving the supply of rental homes across Metro Vancouver's superheated real estate market.
"There's no question that, in addition to the conversations that we have been having about affordability with respect to the purchasing market, there are challenges for folks wanting to rent,'' he said at a news conference Monday.
"It is ultimately about supply. It is about trying to increase the supply of rental accommodation. You will know that that is something the province and the government take very seriously.''
A vacancy tax is a reasonable request to try to regulate the rental market while waiting for new construction to come online, he added.
De Jong said the province would also introduce legislative changes to end self-regulation of the real estate industry.
He and Premier Christy Clark announced late last month the province would revoke the privilege of self-regulation after a damning report concluded the sector had lost the public trust.
Mayor Gregor Robertson and de Jong met two weeks ago to discuss the city's demand for an empty homes tax. At the time, the mayor said that if the province wouldn't help, the city was prepared to go it alone and create a business tax using existing mechanisms in the charter.
A recent city-commissioned study found that about 10,800 homes were left empty for a year or more, most of them condominiums. The city's rental vacancy rate is 0.6 per cent.
NDP Housing critic David Eby said the province refused to take action on real estate prices over the last 12-week legislative session. The only reason the Liberal government is taking action now is because they're looking at poll numbers in Metro Vancouver, he said.
"The action they're allegedly taking is, as always, the absolute least that they could do,'' he said.
"They're asking the city of Vancouver to do their job of protecting their interests of Metro Vancouver residents who can't afford to buy a place, simply because they're unwilling to do it themselves.''
He said the government needs to take action to address the high price of housing elsewhere. Metro Vancouver cities including Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey have also seen dramatic price spikes.
Eby said the province has the tools to levy taxes on people who are using housing as an investment instead of a place to live, but they have failed to do so.
"To stand in front of a sign that says 'Taking action on housing affordability' when the complete opposite is true, after two years of pushing this government, is an insult to the residents of Metro Vancouver,'' he said.
Eby said he will have to see what de Jong puts forward in the legislature before he decides whether to support it.
The Canadian Press