Vacant Unit Tax is not a “tax grab”

A recent opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen categorized the City’s new Vacant Unit Tax as a tax grab.

Here is the HCA’s full response as submitted to the Ottawa Citizen:

Randall Denley has not understood the main reason for the vacant unit tax and has labelled it as a tax grab. Vacant units cost all taxpayers in some form or another. 

Hintonburg presently has 38 empty residential buildings that contain at least 60 residential units and housed well over 150 people. These buildings housed our neighbours until they were bought for speculation and were demovicted. Many have sat empty, derelict and boarded for years – some close to a decade. They have tall weeds, graffiti, garbage, are regularly broken into, set on fire. The neighbours and community are left to manage these buildings by constantly calling the City. The City issues an order, the owner eventually complies on the last day of the order and then the cycle starts all over again. Only one of the empty buildings in Hintonburg is well maintained – all the rest have multiple calls for service each year. Our property taxes pay all the City staff time dealing with these issues – the owner of the derelict property pays nothing.

This Vacant Unit Tax will fund what all taxpayers are now covering and any excess will go to affordable housing, which we are losing every day. We are happy to see the owners of derelict buildings having to pay the cost of the staff who have to try to keep these places from being eyesores and firetraps.

The Hintonburg Community Association presented the idea of this tax to Council in budget presentations in the fall of 2020 as a cost saving measure. We presented the positive results of such a tax in Vancouver and Winnipeg where the number of vacant units has substantially decreased. Council studied such a tax, understood the benefits and implemented it.

This tax makes absolute sense. The public benefit of this tax is to incentivize keeping housing occupied (which is usually good affordable housing) until redevelopment happens.

Another public benefit is to reduce endless calls to City By-Law and Property Standards for derelict properties which cost all taxpayers an enormous amount of money. Each of these calls probably costs us in the order of $100-200 each – multiply this by 12-20 calls per year on each building and that adds up. If there are 1600 vacant residential buildings – do the math. A decade ago New Westminster pegged the cost of By-Law calls at $200 per call. 

Council made the right decision.

Cheryl Parrott

Hintonburg Community Association

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