Cornwall vacancy tax would ‘make money’ for affordable housing

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – A city councillor, proposing a vacancy tax on all city properties, believes the scheme would “make money” to build more local affordable housing.

“If we have enough homes that are vacant, we can make some money and put it towards affordable housing,” Syd Gardiner said in tabling the proposal Monday night.

The vacancy tax is already in place in Vancouver and is being looked at in Ottawa and Toronto.

But some of Gardiner’s counterparts believe it’s either not the right time or would unfairly malign commercial property owners who have not been able to rent their locations.

“I understand that this would target residential properties but my concern is commercial properties,” Coun. Justin Towndale said. “In 2017-2018, we eliminated the vacant tax rebate for commercial so I think it phased out this year. What’s going on right now with the pandemic there’s vacant commercial space. I don’t think this is time to put this in and quite frankly I don’t think we’re the right size (city) for this.”

Towndale says the city should concentrate more on community improvement plans than taxing property owners.

While saying he still wants to see the report, Coun. Eric Bergeron believes the plan may “backfire in terms of commercial properties.”

Coun. Dean Hollingsworth, supporting Gardiner’s motion, says there’s a shortfall of places for people to live and it’s “potentially stunting economic development in the municipality as well.”

“It’s time we investigated moving on empty storefronts especially, especially some that have been visibly vacant for years and possibly properties of absentee landlords,” Coun. Elaine MacDonald added.

While supporting the idea of the report, some others on council were not comfortable with the idea of another tax.

The final vote to get the report was 9-2 with Couns. Justin Towndale and Claude McIntosh voted against it.

In the case of Vancouver, the vacancy tax is 1.25 per cent on the assessed value of the property if it’s not rented at least six months of the year. As an example, that would be $2,500 on a $200,000 property – on top of the regular property taxes.

In his speech Monday night, Gardiner incorrectly referred to the Vancouver tax being 3 per cent.