Could vacancy fines ease California’s housing crisis? Vancouver tries it, with mixed results

By Jacob Lazzaro : calmatters – excerpt

It’s unclear how many people might be helped if California cities penalized companies that leave housing vacant. Vancouver levied a wide-ranging vacancy tax in its tight market, but more than half the empty homes were exempt.

California has a housing shortage, so the idea of a big, faceless corporation keeping thousands of homes empty for months is pretty frustrating. But a new proposal in California is aimed at changing that by allowing cities and counties to impose vacancy fines.

The intent is to let local governments levy charges on corporate-owned homes left unoccupied for more than 90 days, as well as to use eminent domain — expropriation rights — to take possession of such homes to use as affordable housing. Existing law requires that properties be declared blighted before cities can confiscate them…

The Canadian city of Vancouver has a vacancy tax, with mixed results.

In response to a citywide housing crunch and skyrocketing housing costs, the west coast city imposed a yearly 1% vacancy tax in 2017 on any residential property — not just corporate-owned — that has been empty for at least 6 months. Two years later, the province of British Columbia, where Vancouver is located, imposed an additional half-percent for Canadian owners and permanent residents and 2% for foreign owners…

Targeting only corporate-owned homes, Gordon said, seems too narrow.

“The lesson from British Columbia is that the tax needs to be applied in a fairly broad manner, and enforcement has to be done diligently, and the penalties for leaving properties vacant have to be fairly substantial,” he said. “Short of that, you’re not going to get much movement in the rental market.”…(more)

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