Hamilton Council will get a chance to revisit Vacant Home Tax by-law December 13

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Published November 24, 2023 at 6:25 pm

Vacant home

A vacant home tax for empty Hamilton homes that was expected to be a slam dunk at the November 22 until it wasn’t still has a chance at becoming a reality.

The way forward is if a City councillor brings a motion to reconsider at the December 13 Council meeting – the last meeting of the calendar year.

While several councillors have expressed disappointment with the vote – the by-law lost on a 6-6-1 tie vote – none has of this writing stated they will definitely bring that motion forward in 19 days time.

Both councillors who have spoken out against the no vote on the tax were not there for the vote. Councillor Nrinder Nann, who had to leave the chambers before the vote for a family health matter, said the outcome lacked “professionalism” and disregarded the work gone into the program to date, calling it “a slap in the face of council’s declared housing crisis.”

Brian McMullen, the City’s Director of Financial Planning Administration and Policy, told Insauga that Hamilton has already spent $300,000 on preparing for the Vacant Unit Tax, including $225,000 on printing and mailing of three informational mail outs which went out in April, June and September to all residential homes in Hamilton.

Councillor Cameron Kroetsch, who was also not present for the vote, said he believes a procedural issue is to blame for stopping the tax from being implemented.

“Really disappointed there was a surprise ‘no’ vote on the Vacant Unit Tax yesterday and sorry I had to leave before it happened. I would have voted in favour, as I have done consistently on the VUT,” Kroetsch wrote on social media.

Kroetsch said he believed yesterday’s vote was going to be a “formality” and had no inkling the motion would be defeated. “Had I known that there was an important vote coming up, I would have rearranged my schedule to be there.”

Kroetsch argued in his 11-tweet post Thursday that enabling bylaws should appear as consent items on council agendas, which are typically passed “as a matter of course.” He also wrote that even if a councillor does not agree with a bylaw that has been passed, they should vote yes on an enabling bylaw that has already been debated and ultimately approved.

“These bylaws could also be put forward in such a way that if a member of council wanted to vote against them, that member would have to ask for a reconsideration vote. That’s what should have happened yesterday as the enabling bylaw was already the result of a Council decision.”

“While I can’t speak to why that didn’t happen, this has revealed our system doesn’t work.”

Kroetsch expects council will be able to vote on the tax again, though that would mean “relying on the good faith and trust of colleagues” to navigate the procedural part of this so we can vote on it again. “I know where I stand and that’s not going to change.”.

 

Acting City Clerk Jane Pilon said the information on how Council can re-visit the matter on December 13 has been circulated to all councillors. Pilon said Council could decide to proceed with its decision to keep the vote as is, which means the by-law would be defeated; or a member of Council could bring forward a motion to reconsider the original motion or a motion to reconsider the Bill, which would both require a two-thirds majority.

The Vacant Home Tax, which would impose a tax on properties that are unoccupied for more than 183 days in a year, had already been approved at committee after considerable debate in January.

The one per cent tax on vacant units is expected to incentivize property owners to ensure their buildings are occupied, thus creating more housing. Any homeowners who fail to declare their vacant property to the city could face a fee of $250 and further fines should they refuse to comply with the tax.

The decision to impose a vacant unit tax would align Hamilton with other major Canadian cities, such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, which have already implemented similar measures to address their own housing crises.

The tax was supposed to come into effect in 2024.

Kroetsch believes the majority of Council supports the tax and that they will do the right thing on December 13.

“It’s now just a matter of time before we get to vote again. I’m not sure if those voting no realized this.”

With files from Ashley Newport

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