Opinion: Totally vacant: City of Vancouver’s push for an empty store tax

Just when you thought you could never cure the misery of local merchants, comes the prescription

The pandemic has ravaged many businesses. But hey, why stop there?
Vancouver City Council intends to go further.

No kidding: he asked the province to consider granting him permission to tax . . .
Wait for it. . .

Empty stores.

Just when you thought you could never remedy the misery of local traders, comes the statute of limitations: when a business goes bankrupt and lets the landowner carry the mortgage, or when a property is bought and it is not suitably and quickly occupied, Vancouver would impose a tax if the place remained vacant.

So the mayor and six councilors (two opposed, two absent in the vote) are calling on the like-minded NDP provincial government to consider the concept with a view to granting municipal tax privileges under the Vancouver Charter.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, bearing absolutely no evidence to support his theory, suggests that there are “speculators” who buy commercial properties, leave them empty and “wait for them to deteriorate” as the land value increases, so, according to the theory, they can be sold at a great profit and gutted. In a city where you have to be stupid to lose money on real estate, his scheme requires a certain genius to earn it.

The devils in the details – how long the vacancy would last before the tax would arrive, how much it would be – are still sketchy, in line with business ideas emanating from the town hall. But it makes you wonder what landowner working in authority at Cambie and 12th could have thought that was inspired incitement.

To date, no one has been found.

For half a dozen years, the city’s empty home tax has been (in addition to a brazen tax grab, rising to 5% of assessed value next year) a sharp stick applied to homeowners to rent out their vacant properties in a tiny residential vacancy market.

There’s no such problem with commercial property – indeed, there seems to be an unhealthy glut, thanks to this pesky pandemic among other things – but the mayor says there are owners in love with their still storefronts and even more in love with the solitary heroism of carrying an expensive mortgage without any income.

So far, no one has been found.

This unfortunate pandemic has spurred more online shopping, less foot traffic, supply chain issues and worsening labor shortages, compounding the challenges of running a successful store in the city. . This calls for help, not another pile of taxes. The meaningless ploy of empty stores is, in fact, a cruel farce that won’t tempt new landlord-tenant leases to emerge from the woodwork or coax vivacious commerce onto a sleepy street.

If storefronts are empty, it’s more likely due to the city’s other version of the empty store tax: the existing commercial tax rates, four times higher than residences, with the imposition of this tax , and therefore on rents, on the “highest and best possible use of a building. It should be noted that ultimately the consumer pays for this civic havoc.

A new tax would kick homeowners as they lie on the ground with one hand tied behind their back in a world-class spending city that has no plan to deal with a rise in casual vandalism and burglaries without consequence. Last week, urban mayors across British Columbia wrote to the province demanding tougher treatment for repeat property crime offenders. In Vancouver, there are 40 ‘super chronic’ offenders with an average of 54 convictions amid a meteoric rise in cases that prosecutors bring to court in the revolving door dance of crime, conviction, sentence and conditional release.

The point of owning a storefront is not to close it but to rent it, provided of course that the town hall’s permit team comes out of its induced coma on occasion so as not to hinder the planned improvements.

Taxes almost never solve problems and almost never fail to create them. They certainly do not stimulate the markets. But as the election campaign begins in earnest, the mayor is ticking the box for initiatives down the road to garner immediate support from the many skinless voters in the game, whether they own commercial or residential property. These policies of division and class conflict are in his playbook as a semblance of social and economic justice. The mayor’s insistence that the tax would not apply to “good” homeowners is the perfect whistle in this context.

Indeed, successive regimes have found it easy to stoke voter animosity towards landlords perceived as ill-gotten riches who resist a suddenly densified neighborhood – or, with this latest version, landlords who hoard buildings stripped and sit on an ever-expanding pot of gold. .

They’re practical villains for the savior on the white horse at election time, and this administration and previous ones have done a good job of convincing enough people that it’s up to them to say the city can make housing affordable, impact noticeable on climate change, ending systemic discrimination, making the streets safer with fewer police and making homelessness a thing of the past.

Who wouldn’t want a city that aspires and achieves all of this? But listen, to do that, we need new taxes. How about an empty-nest tax when the kids move to college, or an empty-net tax when I’m pulled as a beer league goalie for an extra striker at the end of game?

Nope? Fear nothing. To quote the late, great Jimmy Durante, I had a million. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor of BIV and vice president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

Melissa C. Keyes