Hamilton sends vacant home tax back to committee

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Published December 14, 2023 at 2:31 pm

Vacant homes

The on-again, off-again vacant home tax for empty Hamilton homes will be back at the General Issues Committee in the new year after a much-debated and much-amended motion for a staff report on the implications of the tax was approved, with the report due back January 17.

The vacant home tax, a idea already approved in communities across Ontario in a bid to tackle the growing housing crisis and encourage property owners to address the issue of vacant units, was passed at the committee level earlier this year but in a surprise move – with several councillors absent from the vote – was defeated by a 6-6-1 tie vote in November.

A return to the committee agenda would require a re-consideration vote (with a two-thirds majority needed) but with several speakers indicating approval wouldn’t be a slam-dunk, the choice was made to have staff prepare a “comprehensive” report on the pros and  cons of levying a one per cent tax on vacant properties in the city.

Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann, who had to leave the chambers before the November vote for a family health matter, floated the idea of a staff report before a final vote on the matter.

“Given the unprecedented nature of voting down a policy bylaw that had been approved by more than two-thirds of council, I think it’s important the public receive a comprehensive accounting and update on the implications of doing so,” she said.

Nann said last month’s 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.”

Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson agreed to the staff report but said it “won’t change his mind” on being opposed to the tax, citing the cost of mailings to 170,000 homes to find out about 11,000 potential vacant properties and of the risk the city’s non-profit housing corporations get inadvertently taxed.

One of the amendments to the motion was that Hamilton’s non-profit housing corporations wouldn’t be subject to the tax.

If the vacant tax is approved, a letter with instructions on how to fill out the mandatory declaration would be mailed to residential property owners each year. If homeowners fail to declare their property or miss the deadline, they could be subject to a declaration fee of $250. Additionally, penalties and interest will be imposed for non-compliance.

“I never expected to be where we are on this,” he said at Wednesday’s Council meeting. “I would rather look at other ways at finding vacant residences.”

Brian McMullen, the City’s Director of Financial Planning Administration and Policy, told inthehammer that Hamilton had 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 the city.

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

“No resident of Hamilton is going to be paying this tax, unless you happen to own two houses and decide to leave one of them vacant for more than half the year,” said Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko, who drafted the original motion.

The one per cent tax on vacant units is expected to incentivize property owners to ensure their buildings are occupied, thus creating more housing, with the revenue generated from reinvested into programs aimed at alleviating the housing shortage.

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.

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