Vacant home tax will help to address issue

The latest census figures released this month show that 2,770 private homes in Saanich are unoccupied

A search of homes available for rent in the Saanich area quickly reveals the extent of the problem. The numbers are shrinking, the prices are rising, and there appears to be more people looking for a place to call home than there are accommodations to house them.

And the problem is not one that can be solved by looking farther afield, as all communities in Greater Victoria are facing similar situations. The latest Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report shows a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate for Victoria, with the average rent climbing by 5.5 per cent in the last year to $994. And the skyrocketing costs of real estate puts home ownership outside of many families’ reach.

Saanich and many other Capital Region communities have invested considerable time and money in the creation of affordable housing projects. But while affordable housing projects might be able to lessen the strain for those in the most critical need, construction cannot take place fast enough to meet the growing need for all residents.

That has prompted some local politicians to take another look at the existing housing stock. Saanich Couns. Colin Plant and Vicki Sanders have recently suggested they were willing to consider a tax on vacant homes. “If properties are being marketed to foreign buyers as an investment rather than for living and leaving them vacant I have a concern,” said Sanders.

And recent statistics do show cause for some concern. The latest census figures released this month show that 2,770 private homes in Saanich are unoccupied, representing almost five per cent of the total housing stock.

Saanich would not be venturing into uncharted waters with a tax on vacant homes. New legislation took effect this year in Vancouver, where houses deemed empty face an additional one per cent tax on the property’s assessed value. The City of Victoria is now looking at a similar initiative.

However, provincial approval would be needed for either Saanich or Victoria to follow Vancouver’s lead. It might be wise for those communities to seek that approval while a looming provincial election has the government in a receptive mood.