Vacant Homes Tax back on in Hamilton; target date now 2025

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Published January 24, 2024 at 3:56 pm

The on-again, off-again vacant home tax appears to be back on in Hamilton, though the one per cent tax on empty properties in the city will not be in force until 2025.

The tax for empty Hamilton homes, first brought to Council a year ago, was expected to be a slam dunk at the November 22 meeting until it wasn’t, with the motion losing by a surprising 6-6-1 tie vote.

Councillor Nrinder Nann, who had to leave the chambers before the vote in November for a family health matter, brought the motion back to the chambers Wednesday.

“The merits of the vacant home tax are very clear,” the Ward 3 Councillor said. “It’s about ensuring empty homes are occupied by our residents.”

Nann thanked staff in preparing the 2024 version of the tax, noting that the City had already spent $400,000 on the motion (mostly on informational mail-outs) when it was defeated last year.

“Fundamentally it’s about preserving the affordable housing stock we have and reducing the impact and burden from the homelessness crisis.”

Normally, motions that have been previously defeated require a motion to reconsider before they can be on the floor, but the Council was told the Province requires that this bylaw to be enacted each year. Last year was a fail but 2024 is a new year, noted Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson.

“The onus is on us to show the (provincial) government this council can step up,” she said, “All this is asking is for those property owners to share in the burden they are helping create.”

Ward 4 Councillor Tammy Hwang noted that she and Nann had spoken to Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy about the issue and the Pickering-Uxbridge MP had asked them “what happened to the tax?” and what Council was going to do to  “remedy” the situation.

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  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.

Non-profit housing and designated housing projects under the Housing Services Act would be exempt.

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 but now will return to the council floor before the spring and if approved be in place in 2025 for the 2024 tax year.

Nann said she spoke to officials in Ottawa, who said the City realized $13 million in gross revenues and $10.5 million after start-up and operating costs in the first year of the vacant homes tax.

“Those who chose to keep their properties vacant will be contributing a one per cent tax towards affordable housing initiatives,” she said.

The motion passed by a 9-6 vote with Ward 10 Councillor Jeff Beattie one of those opposed, calling the tax “onerous” to property owners. “The juice,” he said, “may not be worth the squeeze.”

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