With occupancy studies showing that between five and eight percent of Vancouver homes are sitting empty, there is probably a fairly high likelihood that you know of at least one in your neighborhood that fits this bill.
Now, Vancouverites will be able to report these homes, thanks to a new website being set-up by the City that will help determine how much vacant properties contribute to the city’s affordability crisis by looking at how many homes are empty, and for what reason (i.e. renovation, demolition, probate). The initiative will be supported by BC Hydro consumption data and national census information. It was a 2009 study of BC Hydro data by Bing Thom Architects that suggested five to eight percent of downtown Vancouver condos were “dark”.
The website will also address two major questions: 1) how much of an influence foreign investors are having on these vacancies; and 2) whether housing is being treated as a commodity rather than as a legitimate place to live.
Taking a closer look
A 2011 Urban Future Institute report showed 6.7 percent of apartment dwellings, both condos and purpose-built units being unoccupied in Vancouver alone, compared to 6.2 percent in Metro Vancouver overall and 7.0 percent across all major Canadian urban centers. For some, these numbers are attributed to an influx of foreign investments, particularly from China, even when the opposite is true.
This point of view is bolstered by the fact that many residents are frustrated with not being able to find accommodation in an investor’s market that is heavily influencing supply and demand. Another point of view is that the demand for housing in Vancouver lacks a strong relationship with the local economy, which leads to out of whack prices compared to what people who live and work in the city can actually afford.
Vancouver City Councilor Kerry Jang, a third-generation Chinese- Canadian has also heard that housing is influenced by money-laundering from China, a point supported by recent cases where people were being sought on corruption charges in China for investments in Vancouver.
Accurate data to support or refute this has been difficult to obtain. Either way, the results shown by the new website, if passed along to the provincial and federal governments, could help control how foreign investors influence the housing market. This could include, for example in other countries, levying special fees for houses that remain empty solely for investment purposes.