UBCM endorses Oak Bay motion to give municipal control over spec tax

Resolution endorsed by UBCM’s Resolution Committee and B.C. Green Party leader

The Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates agreed Wednesday (Sept. 12) to urge the provincial government to give communities the right to choose whether or not, or how to impose a vacant home tax.

The motion came from Oak Bay and urges the province to replace the current provincial speculation tax proposal with one that would empower municipalities to bring in a local vacancy tax. This power would allow individual municipalities to make the choice of whether to have a vacancy tax. The resolution was endorsed by both the UBCM’s Resolution Committee and B.C. Green Party leader, Andrew Weaver.

“We felt that we know our community of Oak Bay better than anyone else, certainly better than the provincial government,” Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen told Black Press News Media after the resolution passed. “The value of letting local governments do it, is first of all we know best, second of all we can use that money for affordable housing in our community or in our regions.”

The speculation tax will be proposed in legislation that is to be brought forward in the fall and is designed to punish those property owners who leave units vacant and, according to B.C. Finance Minster Carole James, “parking their capital on our housing market simply to speculate, driving up prices and removing rental stock.”

RELATED: MLA REPORT: Speculation tax can carry unforeseen consequences

The speculation tax was scaled back in March to exempt rural recreation properties. The Gulf Islands, the Juan de Fuca region in Premier John Horgan’s constituency, Parksville and Qualicum Beach are being exempted. The municipalities of Nanaimo, Lantzville, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission would still be included, as are the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna, when the tax takes effect in 2019.

But there are concerns about what the tax would mean to the community of Oak Bay and others that have many residents maintaining one home here and another away, only spending a portion of the year in the community, or those that are transitioning into retirement and a move to the coast but not living here full-time yet. Oak Bay is one of the B.C. communities where Albertans and Americans have sold vacation homes rather than pay tax

RELATED: Payroll, speculation tax top municipal agenda for B.C.

The resolution from Oak Bay calls for the province to let municipalities administer extra property taxes on vacant residential properties, and spend the money on “non-market housing” to help lower-income buyers and renters.

The tax takes effect on 2018 property value and stays at 0.5 per cent for B.C. residents with second homes. Residences that are rented out six months or more of the year will also be exempt from the tax, which was patterned after Vancouver’s “empty home tax” to discourage real estate speculators from pushing up prices.

The tax is provincial jurisdiction, so while it impacts the community, municipalities can only advocate for changes, they do not have the power to change them.

-with files from Tom Fletcher

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