British Columbia eyeing proposals to cool red-hot housing market

VANCOUVER: British Columbia is studying a number of options to address housing affordability in the Vancouver area, a provincial spokesman said, though he declined to comment specifically on renewed calls for a tax on vacant homes.

“There are a number of different proposals the province is currently studying,” Jamie Edwardson, spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, said late on Wednesday, noting that the government has promised to unveil new measures in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson again called on the province to impose new taxes on real estate to help cool the city’s overheated housing market and said the local government is preparing to take action on homes left vacant by absentee owners.

“We’re continuing to press on the province for support, to have a tax on empty homes, but in lieu of that, we’re going to look at what our options are here at the city,” he told reporters.

He gave no specifics on what action the city might take and cautioned its powers were limited, though he said council plans to address the issue before it breaks for the summer.

There are more than 10,000 empty homes in Vancouver, according to a city-backed study released earlier this year, with most of the vacant units in condominium buildings. The city, which is struggling with an affordability crisis, would like those homes to be made available as rental stock.

Housing prices have jumped more than 30 percent in Vancouver over the last year, hitting C$931,300 ($720,100) on the city’s eastside in May and C$1.2 million in the west, driven by offshore money, speculation and low interest rates, among other factors.

In the Greater Vancouver region, home prices have climbed 46.9 percent in the last five years. Despite this stratospheric rise, the province has been hesitant to intervene, only recently taking small steps to start tracking foreign buyers and to slow aggressive flipping activity.

Edwardson noted that cities have the ability to address affordability through their density bylaws, and said the province could consider changes to a provincial charter to give Vancouver more flexibility to impose its own real estate taxes.
Editing by Kim Coghill

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