Two Victoria councillors want the 15 per cent provincial property transfer tax on foreign buyers applied in the capital region, and say local municipalities should be given the authority to impose a tax on vacant properties.
Councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday hope their council colleagues will support asking the Capital Regional District board to throw its weight behind the changes. Revenue from the foreign buyer tax — a measure introduced in Metro Vancouver last summer —should be used to invest in affordable housing, they say.
“We’re definitely hearing from the public that there’s substantial concern around escalating prices for residential real estate and also real concern about affordable home ownership being out of reach for more and more families,” Isitt said.
“When you look at the escalating price of land, it has an impact both on renters as well as on people hoping to be homeowners.”
Loveday said there are a number of Victoria properties that have “lots of vacant units in them.
“There are also derelict properties that are vacant, and to be able to apply a tax on those might encourage the owners of those properties to bring them into shape and bring them back on line as housing,” Loveday said, adding that city staff are collecting data on the number of vacant units.
The two are are not proposing immediate implementation of a tax on vacant properties, but rather the authority to levy such a tax if warranted by the data,Loveday said.
Isitt said they want Victoria city council to forward the issue to the CRD because it would be good policy to apply such taxes regionally.
If the resolution makes it to the CRD table, there’s no guarantee it would pass.
The Victoria Real Estate Board says predictions that foreign buyers would flock to Victoria after the tax was imposed in Vancouver have not materialized.
According to the board’s latest numbers, the percentage of property transfers involving foreign buyers in Victoria went from 3.9 per cent in June-August, before the tax was implemented in Metro Vancouver, to 4.6 per cent in November.
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said he would want to see “an up-to-date analysis” on what impact the tax has had on the Vancouver market before making a decision.
“Now that there is a track record of approximately six months, the first step is to see how it has affected prices and impacted the Vancouver market generally,” Jensen said.
Langford Mayor Stew Young said there’s no way he would support a foreign buyer tax, and urged caution about imposing a tax on vacant properties.
Young said he views the tax on foreign buyers “a modern-day head tax” contrary to his belief in the free market.
“I just fundamentally don’t agree with it,” Young said. “I think for people who own a house, government should stay away from that. We’re already over-taxed.”
Esquimalt Mayor and Capital Regional District chair Barb Desjardins is also opposed to the idea.
“I have been watching what’s been going on in Vancouver, and I think it has had significant effects that I don’t think they really understood fully would be encountered,” Desjardins said.
“I tend to support [the idea] that the market will correct itself —and we’re already seeing that. So I would hesitate in implementing a policy that really kind of got brought in on the fly.”