By Korie Marshall
It seems like empty houses are a concern all over the place, not just in Dunster, Valemount and McBride.
A mayoral candidate for the City of Vancouver has a plan to tax home owners who leave their properties vacant and use the money to build affordable housing. It is an interesting idea, and I am sure one that has crossed people’s minds here in the Robson Valley.
Meena Wong doesn’t seem to be a front runner in the race for Mayor, but her party says it will declare Vancouver’s housing in a “State of Emergency.” She doesn’t seem to have a solid plan yet for taxing real estate investors – I don’t how much tax she thinks can be raised, or how rates would be decided. A bigger issue for me is how would the city decide which property should be taxed?
I suppose it is easy to call them “real estate investors,” but I think there are a lot of reasons a home owner may leave a house empty. There are lots of people that have two homes – often one in Canada, and one down south, like Florida or Arizona. Should you be taxed if your house is empty for half a year? What if you have a getaway or a retreat, like a cottage or a cabin that you go to in the summer – should you be taxed on the cottage because it is empty for more than half the year? What if you go out of town for work for weeks or months at a time and your house is empty while you are away – should you be taxed? What if your job or something else in your life took you away for years, but you still want to come back to your home – should you be taxed? What if you are trying to sell it, but you can’t get enough to cover your mortgage – should you be taxed? What if you rent your house out while you are away – should you be taxed? What if you have been trying to rent out your house, but you have really bad luck, and you keep getting ripped off, or your renters keep costing you more than you are making, and you’ve decided to just leave it empty – should you be taxed? What if you are there, but nobody knows you are there, because you keep to yourself – should you be taxed?
That last one sounds a little extreme, but it kind of goes to the heart of the question of your right to do what you want with your own property. In the Robson Valley, I can easily see that someone could be living in their own house and most of the community might not notice them, or they just may not participate in the community – and I think that is a person’s right.
Wong’s idea of using the money raised to build affordable housing sounds good too, but that would still be a problem to overcome for a lot of the Robson Valley – most of the land outside of the villages is part of the agricultural land reserve, and can’t currently be divided.
BC’s Home Owner Grant already provides a tax break for your primary residence; so theoretically, a true real estate investor is already paying more for their property taxes. So is anyone who rents out a second house as a vacation rental, or as a regular rental property. Maybe instead of re-inventing the wheel, the Home Owner Grant just needs to be updated.