Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver

Vancouver has too many empty homes!  With many families and other homeless people looking for a place to live, this is a shame. Here are a few of the many homes across the city that are left empty for a long time instead of being lived in - one option is to move in on your own today! If enough people repossess empty homes maybe the City will be spurred to act and require owners to ensure that homes are lived in prior to resale or redevelopment. 
Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver and Beyond.
As we kick of the month of October with a surge of community contributions, BEH decided to include a once-a-month post from outside Vancouver to illustrate how empty homes are a larger issue.
While details of investor speculation on empty homes differs in the details across Richmond, Vancouver, Surrey, and the Fraser Valley, the negative impacts are similar: loss of community, derelict property, restricted rental market, reduced tax base (empty homes don’t house workers, entrepreneurs, or anyone else who might add value to society - they are empty!). 
According to a neighbour in Port Moody:
This well kept, small bungalow in the Glenayre neighbourhood of sits a few blocks from my home and has been vacant for at least 3 years!  A landscape maintenance contractor mows the lawn.  But there is never a car in the driveway.  Light timers control the interior and exterior lights.
 I can point out two other homes in my neighbourhood that are vacant.
My adult sons have left BC for Ontario and Alberta partially because of the high cost of housing here.Homes that sit empty simply “tighten” the real estate market in BC and artificially force up prices.
The phenomenon this neighbour describes is also all too common throughout the Lower Mainland, where property values are completely out of proportion to the average incomes in the region, and so young people and their families are often obliged to look elsewhere for both work and homes, depriving the city of its vitality and a sustainable tax base.
Speculation on land values continues unabated, in spite of the well documented negative impacts of empty neighbourhoods on the emotional health of residents and on small business. 

All this means that there is lots of room for improvement! We discuss a few policy options on the BEH site, but it is really up to municipal politicians to act in the best interest of residents.

Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver and Beyond.

As we kick of the month of October with a surge of community contributions, BEH decided to include a once-a-month post from outside Vancouver to illustrate how empty homes are a larger issue.

While details of investor speculation on empty homes differs in the details across Richmond, Vancouver, Surrey, and the Fraser Valley, the negative impacts are similar: loss of community, derelict property, restricted rental market, reduced tax base (empty homes don’t house workers, entrepreneurs, or anyone else who might add value to society - they are empty!). 

According to a neighbour in Port Moody:

This well kept, small bungalow in the Glenayre neighbourhood of sits a few blocks from my home and has been vacant for at least 3 years!  A landscape maintenance contractor mows the lawn.  But there is never a car in the driveway.  Light timers control the interior and exterior lights.

 I can point out two other homes in my neighbourhood that are vacant.

My adult sons have left BC for Ontario and Alberta partially because of the high cost of housing here.Homes that sit empty simply “tighten” the real estate market in BC and artificially force up prices.

The phenomenon this neighbour describes is also all too common throughout the Lower Mainland, where property values are completely out of proportion to the average incomes in the region, and so young people and their families are often obliged to look elsewhere for both work and homes, depriving the city of its vitality and a sustainable tax base.

Speculation on land values continues unabated, in spite of the well documented negative impacts of empty neighbourhoods on the emotional health of residents and on small business
All this means that there is lots of room for improvement! We discuss a few policy options on the BEH site, but it is really up to municipal politicians to act in the best interest of residents.

How an Empty Home Fee Could Help Finance Municipal Infrastructure for All Residents

Given the inability of the City to fund affordable housing, and Vancouver’s creaking public transport infrastructure - Translink does not seem to be able to keep up to the reality of a growing metropolitan region - BEH decided it was time for a review of how governments can raise money for public infrastructure through land value capture.

While BEH’s goal is to see an Empty Home Fee introduced based on the city’s property tax powers in the Vancouver Charter (see Part XX), it is worth noting the full extent of a city’s revenue raising tools related to land.

The general list below is provided as a reference for policy makers (and mayoral candidates who tend to address substantive issues without any meaningful detail!)

a. Property tax - based on the value of the property; For 2014, for example, Vancouver’s residential property tax is set at $3.68 per $1000 of assessed value, by far the lowest rate of any major Canadian city. See the 2013 national property tax rate analysis here.

Why not raise the tax assessment on empty homes? If homes or properties are left empty for 6 months, the City could charge a fee calculated at 5-times the standard property tax assessment, that would encourage landlords to keep properties lived in while they profit from increasing land values.

What would this look like? 

At present, the average sale price for a westside home is $2.4 million, at the current assessment, the owner would pay $8,832 in property taxes; a negligible amount, when compared to an average annual increase in value of between 5-7% (on a $2.4 million valuation, that is between $120,000 and $168,000 per year). With property taxes of $8,832 on a gain of $120,000,  who wouldn’t buy a property in Vancouver and leave it sitting empty while it makes money?

With investors making significant cash returns simply by holding empty homes, surely they can afford to contribute more to the public goods which make the city wonderful: parks, good transit, roads, healthy and educated children, affordable housing for Vancouver’s brilliant workers?

Prices of detached homes on the westside show now sign of slowing down, with realtor reports of annual sale price increases of 15% to a 2014 median of $2.3-million and an average of $2.8-million. SO more money is being made holding more empty homes.

If the City were to increase the property tax assessment on empty homes by 5 times (resulting in an assessment of $44,160 on the $2.4m valuation, or a 1.8% property tax rate), owners would still make money on the land value increase, but might be motivated to look for tenants. If they continued to hold the property empty, and pay the increased assessment, at least the city would have more funds to invest in shared infrastructure which benefits all residents.

Other ways to raise revenue for housing, schools, parks, and transit. Many of these are already applied in some form or another, but are always useful to consider when speaking with politicians who prefer to describe all options in the vaguest of terms.

b. Special assessments – an additional tax on property assessed according to the benefits accruing to the property over time from infrastructure on-site or nearby. In the Vancouver context, all private property owners benefit from Vancouver facilitating speculative investment in homes by companies and non-residents, leading to empty homes across the city. In exchange for letting financial speculators empty the city of its social and economic vitality, the city should be extracting more value from speculators through assessments on empty or vacant property.

c. Betterment levies - Capturing part of the land-value gain attributable to infrastructure investment through the imposition of a one-time tax or charge on the land-value gain. The process is explained in detail in Municipal Finances: A Handbook for Local Governments (Catherine Farvacque-Vitkovic, 2014).

d. Impact fees – A one-time, up-front charge designed to pay for the expansion in infrastructure capacity (outside of a new development) necessitated by the growth from new development; in Vancouver, when new towers go up, and when heritage homes are destroyed and replaced by castles for speculative investors, public infrastructure must be replaced and expanded; these costs are not currently covered by developers, and are rather borne by all taxpayers (the Olympic Village and BC Place new roof come to mind)

e. Tax increment finance – revenue bond finance for public infrastructure improvements on the basis of future incremental gains in property taxes within the boundaries of the district receiving infrastructure improvements.

f. Land/asset sales – the sale of land whose value has been enhanced by infrastructure investment or zoning changes. In Vancouver, the city has re-zoned many land parcels to high-density residential, which is effectively making developers many millions of dollars, while, in theory, adding to the affordable housing stock. By simply rezoning a piece of land, the City facilitates vast profit making by developers, and should be capturing more of this value generation for all residents, rather than making a few small fortunes.

Source: Unlocking Land Values to Finance Urban Infrastructure (George Peterson, PPIAF).

Mapping Vancouver’s Beautiful Empty Homes - A Job for Everyone!

Hello,

Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver (BEH) is thrilled to be kicking off a citizen mapping project for the month of October!

We are a community project who work to increase the quality of life in Vancouver by addressing housing issues, social alienation, and the emptiness that characterises the city. Vibrant community members from across the city are coming together to map the persistent emptiness that now defines large swathes of the city.

This month, we are engaging residents to produce a new, comprehensive map of the city’s empty homes with personal stories, pictures, addresses, and any information about empty homes and properties. The goal is to encourage policy action by our municipal leaders to reduce the number of empty homes across the city.

Please contact us with information on empty homes for addition to a work-in-progress map on Google Maps here. The map includes an optional layer of the cities recently demolished homes, from our friends at Vancouver Vanishes

 Quick answers to questions you may be have:

How - All residents, past and present, from children to grandparents are encouraged to share empty homes data on a variety of platforms, including email, Twitter, or Instagram:

1. Twitter (@BEmptyHomes), Facebook, or Tumblr - #emptyhomes.

2. Email us at: bemptyhomes[at]gmail.com 

3. Tumblr: http://beautifulemptyhomes.tumblr.com/

Who - Beautiful Empty Homes of Vancouver, a civic tech group focused on housing in Vancouver and new uses for vacant homes and property, is reaching out to all residents of the city who care about community, livability and quality of life to contribute to the project.

What - We want to make a map (with pictures) of all of Vancouver’s Beautiful Empty Homes and vacant property. We are putting all of the data into a map to share with civic leaders. After that, we will make the data available to the public and we will have effected community members lead empty and demolished homes tours of their neighbourhoods.

Where - The whole City. Any empty homes that you notice in your neighbourhood or on your commute. Get curious, talk to the neighbours about how long it has been empty for.

Why - People who know their neighbourhoods and the empty home hidden gems that sit silently within them; if municipal leaders continue to indicate that they are unaware of the problem, only local residents can show them the reality.

When - The launch week is Monday October 13image

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with a big push over the 3 weeks up to Halloween to document all of the haunting that goes on amidst a tough housing market. After Halloween, we will take stock and continue to collect data from across the City.

CBC Television on Empty Homes

CBC, with its skeleton staff, still managed to raise the issue of empty homes with COPE candidate and a number of commentators. Critical of a vacant property or non-resident buyer tax, Garth Turner alleges that tracking non-resident and company purchases of homes would be “clumsy.” He does not elaborate. From BEH’s perspective, it would be clumsy not to do anything about blighted neighbourhoods and wasted social and economic assets. 

New Empty Homes: the contradictions continue! 
As more neighbours notice long-term empty homes around them, often new builds, the question of what to do about ghost neighbourhoods and inaccessible housing grows more urgent. There are no shortage of international and North American examples to draw on for policy ideas, so the silence of mayoral candidates on the issue remains perplexing.
Are there frogs in Gregor Robertson and Kirk Lapointe’s throats? Why are Meena Wong (COPE) and Peter Frye (Green) able to articulate ideas on the issues while the other major parties play dumb? Messieurs Robertson and Lapointe should grow up and demonstrate that they possess the maturity required to properly address the city’s most pressing issues.
According to a neighbour:
This empty house is on West 13th Ave. at Carnarvon Street. A nice 1 1/2 story home was demolished to build this massive house several years ago.  It has remained empty since it was built.  There is always a “for sale” sign in front of it, but there are never any open houses or other real attempts to sell.
As far as BEH is concerned, this is another great example of why the City of Vancouver should consider a vacant property fee. If speculative investors want to play with land values in the City, then the mayor should at least take steps to ensure that homes are lived in while investors watch land values appreciate. For municipal leaders to let a significant proportion of the city’s housing stock sit empty is irresponsible, bad for the economy, and bad for families.

New Empty Homes: the contradictions continue! 

As more neighbours notice long-term empty homes around them, often new builds, the question of what to do about ghost neighbourhoods and inaccessible housing grows more urgent. There are no shortage of international and North American examples to draw on for policy ideas, so the silence of mayoral candidates on the issue remains perplexing.

Are there frogs in Gregor Robertson and Kirk Lapointe’s throats? Why are Meena Wong (COPE) and Peter Frye (Green) able to articulate ideas on the issues while the other major parties play dumb? Messieurs Robertson and Lapointe should grow up and demonstrate that they possess the maturity required to properly address the city’s most pressing issues.

According to a neighbour:

This empty house is on West 13th Ave. at Carnarvon Street. A nice 1 1/2 story home was demolished to build this massive house several years ago.  It has remained empty since it was built.  There is always a “for sale” sign in front of it, but there are never any open houses or other real attempts to sell.

As far as BEH is concerned, this is another great example of why the City of Vancouver should consider a vacant property fee. If speculative investors want to play with land values in the City, then the mayor should at least take steps to ensure that homes are lived in while investors watch land values appreciate. For municipal leaders to let a significant proportion of the city’s housing stock sit empty is irresponsible, bad for the economy, and bad for families.

Beautiful Heritage Family Home in Dunbar - EMPTY!

This charming home at West 3494 West 20th Ave. at Collingwood Street has been empty and decaying for over a year. When will the City of Vancouver learn from examples around the world and implement a vacant property fee to discourage land owners from leaving homes to rot?

According to a neighbour:

We are a family of four living in Vancouver for the past 3 years, renting in the Dunbar area but have long since realised that our dream of home owning (or even renting long-term) on the Westside of the city is but a pipe dream.
I cycle past this once beautifully kept home every day and wonder what its fate will be? In the spring of 2013 a For Sale sign appeared, with the new owner happy for it to decay. It has stood empty since then. Yesterday I finally got round to taking pictures.
As you can see, like so many others in the city, this family home is left to stand empty. The pristine pale yellow boards are gradually turning grey, the steps are weathered, all the plants are dead, moss is growing on the roof, the gate at the back is left open swinging on its hinges. Very unloved. The neglect is more apparent as it sits in a prime location on the SE corner of West 20th Ave. & Collingwood and is surrounded by other ‘beautiful homes’.
I will be intrigued to know its fate. An empty home or demolition job? Our family would rent it in a heartbeat if only we could locate an owner. There is a serious short supply of decent affordable rental in the Dunbar area, and empty homes only aggravate the problem.

Beautiful, Homeless Vancouver - Can the Mayor Respond?

The issue of empty homes touches everyone. Young professionals, students, young families, and anyone else hoping to make a home in Vancouver. In addition to all of the people who struggle to find housing who consider themselves normal, well-adjusted members of society, there are hundreds of residents who sleep on the streets of our beautiful city everyday. While the Beautiful Empty Homes featured on this blog might not be the perfect rental fit for all of the city’s homeless, we hope to illustrate the disgusting extent of inequality in the city. The problems with empty homes is a symptom of the city’s unwillingness to address even the most egregious waste of economic and social assets - allowing homes to be left empty throughout the city effects us all. Neighbourhoods feel unwelcoming and unsafe to senior citizens, young families do not want to live in empty neighbourhoods, and keeping so many homes empty adds further pressure to the already over-heated housing market. It is up to our civic leaders to act.

Empty Heritage Farm House at 5503 Blenheim Street

This rotting heritage gem on Blenheim Street is none other than the Morrisette Farmhouse, listed by Heritage Vancouver as a Top 10 Endangered heritage home. The large family home has been empty, unlived-in and unloved for years.

Once upon a time, the home had been lived in by hoarders, but it has been boarded up and empty for at least 18 months. Will the home be saved from demolition by the heritage plaque out front? Does anyone at City Hall genuinely care about architectural heritage anymore?

More to the point, as far we are concerned, why is this enormous family home permitted to sit empty for years? Why isn’t a family living here? Ask your friends and neighbours what they think about Vancouver’s Beautiful Empty Home epidemic.

Would you want to live in a neighbourhood of board-up empty homes? Would your grandmother? Public safety, along with preservation of some sense of community, alongside an appreciation of basic economics should motivate municipal leaders to address Vancouver’s Beautiful Empty Homes.

Is that a Beautiful Empty Home or a Rat’s Nest?

This charming family home on 16th Avenue at Yukon Street has gone from home to rat infested derelict property in record time. Awaiting demolition permits and a likely re-zoning, it remains to be seen how long this lot will continue to attract garbage and vandalism. Why, oh why, is there not a family living in the home while it awaits reincarnation as a townhouse complex?

What will it take to spur Vancouver’s leaders to act on the embarrassing issue of empty homes that blight our beautiful city?

From Empty Homes to Empty Apartments! 

The focus of this project has been on the most obviously empty and derelict detached family homes in the city. But contributors cannot help but notice the glaringly empty apartment building at West 2nd Avenue at Yew Street. 6 months ago, this typical Vancouver mid-century block of flats was fully tenanted.

At present, the building is still in perfect condition, but sitting completely empty. Why not keep the building lived up until the actual time of demolition and redevelopment? Instead, because it suits developers, the building will sit empty for months or years while demolition permits and planning permission are processed. Vancouver prefer to have homes sit empty! What kind of a city do we live in when municipal leaders privilege access to housing for rats over access to housing for people and human families?

Vancouver’s Most Glorious Empty Homes? West 2nd Ave. at Drummond Drive

The photos speak for themselves- this house and property have been abandoned for a long time! How is this happening in Vancouver? How can the municipal government and Vancouver’s many young people who struggle to find stable housing let so many homes sit idle? What about young professionals and young families who would like to make a life in the city?

This property is well-located at West 2nd Avenue and Drummond Drive, yet is has been rotting for years. Why won’t the city implement a vacant property surcharge as is being considered in New York?

En Route to the Heritage Home Landfill in the Sky
This heritage home at 2550 Courtenay Street is awaiting its fate as a Beautiful Empty Home demolition project. In the meantime, there are charming ocean views and lots of empty neighbouring homes!

En Route to the Heritage Home Landfill in the Sky

This heritage home at 2550 Courtenay Street is awaiting its fate as a Beautiful Empty Home demolition project. In the meantime, there are charming ocean views and lots of empty neighbouring homes!

Home with a View for Multiple Families - Empty & Waiting

This enormous empty home at 4822 Fannin Avenue, appears to be in limbo. Rotting children’s toys and a crumbling dog house suggest a hurried departure. How long will this large multi-family home sit empty? Could it serve a more productive purpose than sitting vacant for years?

Empty, Lonely, and Alone in Dunbar

As Dunbar proceeds to demolish its entire stock of heritage homes, this beautiful family home at 3345 Collingwood Street at West 17th Ave., is just one more to add to the list. While loss of heritage and family-oriented homes is upsetting, it is downright upsetting for homes such as this to be left empty for months of years prior to demolition. Why not have one or two young families live in this home for the year or 2 it takes to obtain all of the necessary demolition and building permits?

As the city lets more and more homes sit empty for long periods prior to demolition, Vancouver loses its soul and vibrancy as a city. Who wants to live in a neighbourhood without neighbours? 

Life’s A Beach on Point Grey Road… with Empty Homes in Kitsilano!

This charming empty home at 3383 Point Grey Road has been neglected and completely empty for months! Sitting next to a charming little pocket park and on the new bike route, it is a great home! But there is no living it at present and it appears to be in line for demolition.

Should homes be left empty for months or years while they are awaiting demolition. Why not have homes lived in by families of people, rather than families of rats prior to demolition?

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