Vancouver has 10,800 empty homes, mostly apartments: study

Vancouver's rate of vacant homes hasn't changed in more than a decade and is similar to many other Canadian cities, according to a new study.

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The landmark research was performed by city staff and the software company Ecotagious Inc. by looking at the electricity consumption of 225,000 homes in Vancouver over 12 years.

The effort was undertaken in response to growing public concern that vacant homes were contributing to the city's red-hot housing market and leaving many neighbourhoods devoid of inhabitants.

The study, which was presented to city council Tuesday, found that the city's residential vacancy rate was 4.9 per cent in 2002 and 4.8 per cent in 2014. However, the total amount of empty units jumped from 8,400 to 10,800 because of overall growth in the amount of housing.

"The percentage is flat but the numbers are going up," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson on Tuesday.

"That's a lot of empty homes when we have very low vacancy rates."

Robertson said the number is still a cause for concern because of the housing crunch facing in the city. He added these vacant properties could be opened up as rentals for people looking for a place to live.

"We know that there are thousands of units of empty homes that potentially could be available for rental, when we have one of the tightest rental markets in the world," said Robertson.

"This could be a great new supply of housing -- thousands of units that could be available and also generate revenue for their owners."

In 2014, Ninety per cent of the empty homes were apartments. Meanwhile, rental apartments had a vacancy rate of nearly zero and condos that were owned and not available for rent had a 12.5 per cent vacancy rate.

Robertson admitted the city has overemphasized condo development in the past.

"Over the past several decades, we've focussed as a city on building too many condos," he said.

In contrast, single-family and duplex housing units show vacancy rates of one per cent between 2002 and 2014.

Robertson is calling on the province to force strata developments -- where individuals own their personal lots and co-operatively own the building -- to allow rentals, as many currently do not.

City council also unanimously passed a motion for Robertson to reiterate a request to B.C. Premier Christy Clark made last year for municipalities to have the legal faculties to track property ownership and ensure timely occupancy of vacant homes.

The motion also asked staff for recommendations, based on consultations with experts and residents, on policies and regulations that could be used to curb vacancies.

Clark said the provincial government is looking into a solution and believes there should be more rental options available.

"We need to be partners in it, and we're working with the City of Vancouver to figure out exactly the best way to address this," she said.

Clark is considering a number of options, including additional taxes on vacant properties.

The report also effectively puts to rest the notion that investors, who are buying properties and leaving them vacant, are to blame for high prices and low supply.

City housing planner Matthew Bourke told The Canadian Press that there doesn't appear to be a correlation between empty homes and housing prices, since the vacancy rate remained stable while prices shot up.

Coun. Kerry Jang also said the report likely dispels the growing sentiment that foreign investors are buying up local property and leaving it vacant.

"The myth that foreign investors are parking their money here, it doesn't seem to hold water right now," said Jang.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Scott Roberts and files from The Canadian Press


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