Five per cent ‘vacancy tax’ proposed for White Rock

Staff to report on possible implementation of suggested levy

White Rock council and staff are taking a first look at possible legislation to tax vacant property that is allowed to sit dormant for long periods of time.

The idea is modelled on the measure now in place in Vancouver, but unlike that city’s levy, which taxes vacant residential properties at one per cent of assessed value, the vacancy tax, proposed by Coun. Anthony Manning, would go even further.

Not only would it tax properties at five per cent of assessed value, it would also apply to business as well as residential properties.

The motion, unanimously endorsed by council at Monday night’s regular meeting, asks for a staff report on how such a tax could be implemented in the city.

Manning told council his suggestion of a five per cent levy is prompted by White Rock’s limited land base.

“We’re a city of five square kilometres. Our land is precious…we can’t afford the luxury of any unused property.”

Prior to the meeting, Manning said that one of the aims of his proposal is to provide incentive to owners – particularly absentee owners – to lease empty commercial properties that are robbing both the Marine Drive waterfront and the uptown area of vibrancy.

“Blight begets blight,” he said in his remarks to council.

“There are businesses (on Marine Drive) that have been dark for four years, five years, maybe longer… if they are sitting on these properties, that’s not doing the neighbouring businesses any favours.”

But residences also need to be considered, he told council, noting that when he and other councillors were door-knocking before October’s civic election, they encountered many unoccupied single-detached homes.

“Personally, I could say that every day I went out, anywhere from two to five homes on those days we would come up to a place that had a mailbox bulging with newspapers, bulk mail, where the lawn might be unkempt; there were Christmas decorations still up, and we were out walking in August and September.”

Multiple-unit developments are also adding to the unoccupied atmosphere in the city, he said.

“(Luxury units) do seem to be attracting people who only want to use White Rock as a vacation destination, and that does have a knock-on effect in town.

“It means less people patronizing our businesses; it means, potentially, less tax revenue to the city for the services that are being used.”

In addition to the five per cent levy on commercial and residential properties, Manning’s proposal includes a 2.5 per cent levy on property ‘flipping’ transactions, on top of a new provincial levy on such sales. It would also earmark the resulting revenue for acquisition and construction of housing, “at or below market rate.”

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