September 5, 2014

The Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver

While Ireland may have ghost estates (below), Vancouver has its “beautiful empty homes.”  Vancity Buzz reported on a web site of that title here.


BEH-02 BEH-F-800x600


“The Tumblr blog is … run by an anonymous blogger who hopes people will not only take notice, but also take action. The site states its goals clearly:”

blog seeks to encourage citizens and politicians to possess empty homes and to educate the public on rules in other countries that oblige landowners to ensure properties remain fully occupied – go ahead municipal officials, ignore public opinion and let an investor knock down a heritage home to build a palace, just don’t allow the original home to be left empty and rotting for months or years when many people are desperate for a place to live!

The blogger suggests options like squatting and ‘adverse possession rights,’ or this:

… the City could charge punitive property taxes (more than the current assessment) for empty residential and commercial property across the City. This would encourage owners to ensure homes are lived in until they are demolished. 

While landlords are concerned about having paying tenants because of the tax implications upon the sale of the property, the City should develop policy incentives that ensure fewer homes sit empty.

Leaving aside the probability that such ideas are beyond the city’s jurisdiction (let’s ask the federal and provincial governments to change tax laws and assessment authority for Vancouver’s benefit; that should work),  I don’t quite get how monetary penalties would be worse than the loss of rental revenue that owners and investors are already incurring.

And if the City has the power and inclination to regulate what people do with their empty property, I wonder what’s next.  Because, for sure, something would be next.

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  1. So we’ve learned 7% of condos are not occupied, and legislating they be filled would increase supply of available housing and put downward pressure on prices (assuming no other adverse effects).
    On the other hand, it’s not clear that people are just wasting resources. Some wealthy folks might like to own a pied-à-terre in the city that is unoccupied when they are not around. The privacy cost of having renters living in their bedrooms is apparently greater than the benefit of the rent. Or perhaps these suites are being used for storage, or some other purpose I can’t imagine.
    In the end, we should place value on personal freedom. Government should only intervene in individual private lives when unavoidably necessary. Perhaps a better way to increase housing supply without intrusion would be to allow the construction of denser, taller housing in the first place. This would allow more people to live in the city, put downward pressure on prices, and actually reduce the level of intrusion into private lives, and regulation upon private property.
    Seeing beautiful empty homes is emotionally unsettling. But the solution isn’t always shock and awe legislation. Sometimes lessening rules can create cleaner, cheaper, more stable solutions.

    1. Downward pressure on house prices can be interpreted as an adverse effect or a positive one. I guess it depends on whether or not you’re lucky enough to own property. For those not fortunate enough to sit and watch their chips accrue as they play the real estate game in Vancouver, there are other priorities… like looking for a place to RENT and raise young kids. A place such as the Westside where their kids have easy access to green space and low volume streetscapes to play in unsupervised. A place where they can interact with their neighbours and be a presence in the community to the benefit of everyone.
      We can either place value on community building and improving the livability of our neighbourhoods or we can place value on one’s personal freedom to store boxes.
      Government exists to massage our natural individualistic tendencies so we achieve communal gains that we would otherwise not afford ourselves and each other.
      Seeing beautiful homes go to waist in the neighbourhood where my family rented when I was a kid is tragic. While living in towers works for some it is in no way a substitute to living in the homes shown in this blog.

  2. We (the Black Press newspaper group) in 2011 proposed a homeowner grant for TransLink much like the municipal version. It would allow more property tax to be raised for TransLink, which clearly needs more revenue, without the rate increase affecting the taxes on the typical owner-occupied home.
    Those who would pay more would include ineligible foreign owned and non-owner occupied investment homes, neither of which qualify for muni homeowner grants either. An increase in their costs might arguably also provide some limited benefit on the housing affordability/efficiency issue.
    Our idea never got any traction but you can still read that editorial here:

  3. And of course we have heard absolutely nothing on this issue from the two main civic parties in Vancouver during the election campaign. Neither wants to upset their developer backers apparently.