Canada has tens of thousands of homes sitting vacant

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As Canada’s political leaders unveil plans to address the nation’s housing affordability crisis ahead of the federal election, the number of houses sitting vacant appears to be on the rise.

A recent analysis by Point2 Homes found 1.34 million Canadian homes were empty or temporarily occupied, according to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, the most recent figures available.

“Investor speculation and short-term rentals are the main culprits behind high vacancy rates in places like Toronto and Vancouver,” the study’s authors wrote. “In many other cities across the nation, decreasing populations, combined with fluctuations in local economies, are also contributing to the spike in the number of vacant homes.”

The number of unoccupied dwellings in Canada has increased from 7.8 per cent in 2001, the first year the federal government collected data, to 8.7 in 2016. Those figures far exceed vacancy rates in the United States, which have never climbed above 2.8 per cent, according to statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Vancouver, Canada’s priciest housing market, has the highest percentage of empty homes compared to other cities at 8.2 per cent — about 25,000 dwellings. Toronto has 66,000 homes sitting empty, Montreal has 64,000, and Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton all have more than 20,000.

The British Columbia government has implemented a vacancy tax to crack down on investor speculation.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has vowed to put further pressure on speculative foreign owners, promising a one per cent annual tax on residential properties owned by non-Canadians who do not live in the country. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is also promising a national 15-per-cent tax on purchases by non-Canadians who are not permanent residents. Conservative Leader Andew Scheer plans to launch an inquiry into money laundering in the real estate sector and work with industry partners to root out corrupt practices that inflate housing prices.

Point2 Homes found the largest jumps in vacant dwellings between 2006 and 2016 occurred in three Albertan cities: Grande Prairie (181.4 per cent), Leduc (172.4 per cent), and Fort Saskatchewan (146.8 per cent). The biggest drops in the number of empty homes were noted in Ajax, Ont. (-53.1 per cent), Burlington, Ont. (-52 per cent), and Port Moody, B.C. (-50.4 per cent).

In 2016, the highest vacancy rates were in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. (19 per cent), Collingwood, Ont. (17.7 per cent), and Wood Buffalo, Alta. (16.4 per cent), while the lowest vacancy rates in 2016 were in Sainte-Julie, Que. (one per cent), Orangeville, Ont. (1.2 per cent), and Boucherville, Que. (1.4 per cent).

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