Mayoral candidate wants to tax homeowners for leaving property vacant

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Meena Wong is considered a long-shot in the race to run the City of Vancouver, but already her bold platform on housing is gaining national attention.

If elected, Wong, a 53-year-old mental-health worker and community activist, and her party, Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) intends to immediately declare Vancouver’s housing in a “State of Emergency.”

Among Wong’s targets for reform are those home owners who leave their properties vacant. A tax levied on such real estate investors–often those who primarily reside in other countries–could turn into revenue for the city that Wong would like to put to use to build affordable housing.

The Globe and Mail explored Wong’s candidacy and absentee homeowner tax idea, noting that the Chinese-born politician could be treading in murky waters, considering that a recent survery from “major B.C. real estate firm Macdonald Realty said about a third of all single-family homes sold in Vancouver went to people with ties to mainland China.”

The publication spoke to Wong on the subject:

“Most immigrants coming from mainland China are workers, hard-working people … I don’t want to paint the whole community as wealthy billionaires,” she said. “I don’t want this to be a racialized thing. But if you’re going to buy in Vancouver and not live in Vancouver, we’re going to do something about that.”

Wong “is unlikely to win the November election,” echoes The Sun. However COPE’s strident housing platform is certainly something the current Mayor, Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, sees as a pressing issue.

“We have real concerns around empty homes, and affordability,” Robertson told The Sun.

Besides imposing a tax on vacant homes with current ownership, COPE’s housing plan includes banning corporate donations to City Hall, building 800 units of city-run social housing per year with an emphasis on replacing SRO units on the Downtown Eastside with affordable options and halting condo development and gentrification there, creating a Municipal Rent Control by-law, supporting the formation of Tenants’ Unions, and creating a Squatters Rights bylaw.

Featured image: House interior/Shutterstock

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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