September 17th, 2014
“We will monitor vacancy rates as well as rent increases across the city,” says Meena Wong
Over the past week, there has been significant interest in COPE’s proposal to monitor Vancouver’s housing supply, including vacant or under-utilized properties.
“I am happy to have this discussion about vacant properties, because the housing crisis in Vancouver has only worsened over the past six years,” said Meena Wong, COPE’s Mayoral candidate. “We need to have a vigorous public debate about solutions.”
COPE would like to take this opportunity to be very clear about what we are, and are not, proposing.
A central part of COPE’s election platform, which has been developed democratically by our membership in consultation with grassroots organizations, is our Housing Authority plan. COPE’s Housing Authority will focus on new affordable and social housing construction, but it will also include an office to monitor the city’s existing housing infrastructure through a new Landowner and Landlord Registry.
Here’s what the registry will do:
Register and License Landowners and Landlords: All residential properties will be registered to take a full inventory of the city’s housing stock. Licensing and registration fees for rental properties will fund administration of the the registry itself, at no cost to the public.
Monitor vacancy rates: The registry will track vacancy rates. Property owners will report usage information to the city, and the city will also use surveys, inspections, and other methods.
In some sectors of the housing market, such as purpose-built rental, vacancy rates are very low. COPE’s Housing Authority will focus on housing construction to meet the need in this area.
In other sectors, such high-end downtown condominiums, vacancy rates can be much higher. The city will create incentives for property owners to register and rent-out these suites and rooms legally at affordable rates. The registry will also monitor and apply penalties for vacant or underutilized properties.
Monitor rent increases: The registry will include an up-to-date inventory of all rental units, rents and rent increases.
Stop renovictions: The registry will track renovations. By placing tenancy protection conditions on renovations permits, the city can stop the practice of using renovations as a means to evict tenants and circumvent the RTA rent increase regulations.
Track all health, safety, maintenance, and tenancy disputes: The registry will centralize data on housing safety and quality so that the city can finally enforce its standards of maintenance bylaws. The city’s current database is woefully inadequate.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does COPE want to monitor Vancouver’s housing supply?
The first reason for monitoring the housing supply is to understand the affordability crisis. The city will monitor rents and rent increases on all rental housing. This gives the city the knowledge it needs to improve rent control and stop renovictions. The second reason is to better monitor health and safety standards. Thirdly the registry will be used to incentivize the renting-out of under-utilized properties at affordable rates.
How will COPE determine what a “vacant property” is?
“Vacant” will mean a unit of housing that is consistently unoccupied for 12 months of the year by the owner and not rented out. This definition is not meant primarily to capture vacation homes, but rather homes treated as investment vehicles and left empty.
Under COPE’s plan, will vacant properties pay an extra tax?
Yes. The registry system will allow for both carrots and sticks. There will be incentives for owners to rent out vacant homes. And if owners still choose to leave them empty they can afford to pay a tax that will contribute to our affordable housing fund.
Will this registry tax foreign owners exclusively?
No. It does not matter whether the owner’s primary residence is in Dunbar, Toronto, Seattle, or overseas. If a property is vacant, there will be a vacancy levy.
Will the registry cost the residents of Vancouver to create?
No. Administration of the registry will not be a cost to the public, because it will be funded by landlord registration fees, based on the New York model.
Are vacant or under-utilized properties the main cause of high housing prices?
No. The biggest problem in Vancouver is that we have a game of monopoly where new housing supply is closely controlled by big property developers and their friends at city hall. Vision and NPA each took over $1 million from property developers last election. It is no wonder that luxury development trumps real affordable housing every time. COPE rejects developer money and will ban developer donations to all municipal parties.