Council votes to take steps towards vacant residential unit tax
City staff will begin to look for best practices around an additional tax for residential units in the Kingston area that are left vacant.
Part of staff's job will be collecting data on exactly how many residential properties remain vacant in Kingston.
The motion was proposed and seconded by two first term councillors, Connie Glenn and Paul Chaves respectively, at Tuesday's council meeting and was approved with a vote of 12-1.
Conny Glenn, Sydenham District Councillor, said while it's not a solution to the massive housing problem it could be a relatively quick way to open up more property to actually be used.
"If we've got available residential property that is sitting vacant, this is a movement to urge people to do something with that property," Glenn said.
"Do something with it to contribute to the solution."
Glenn said while some may be concerned that it is proposed as a tax, the easy solution to avoiding that tax would be to do something with the property, whether that be to move in, rent out, or sell to someone who will use it.
Other municipalities have implemented a similar tax including Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto - with tax rates typically landing at 1% of the property's value and a number of different exceptions for houses that may be vacant for extenuating circumstances like repairs or death of the property's owner.
Councillor Lisa Osanic pointed out that after implementing a tax of their own in 2017, Vancouver managed to decrease it's total number of vacant properties by 36% as of the end of 2021.
That tax would come in addition to the federal government's 1% Underused Housing Tax which normally applies to non-residents of Canada, and Vancouver's tax also pairs up with a provincial tax implemented in BC.
Some councillors said they received emails ahead of the meeting raising concern about the idea, including from snowbirds.
Countryside Councillor Gary Oosterhoff, the sole dissenting vote, said before pushing something like this on homeowners, council needs to do a better job at making sure housing developments move forward in the city.
"We have not done our job well enough in this city," Oosterhoff said.
"We make it impossible for some developers to get housing built."
Pittsburgh Councillor Ryan Boehme voted in favour of the motion, and said moving forward with it will help with the housing crisis but never as much as moving forward with a big development and agreed with Oosterhoff that development is made too difficult in the city and is much easier in surrounding cities like Belleville and Brockville.
Boehme said a small, dedicated group are normally able to halt any large development in its tracks in the city (including the Davis Tannery development).
He says it is frustrating because the push back is frequently against densifying by building high rises, and often comes off as NIMBYism.
"The most frustrating thing to me when I'm reading all these emails," Boehme said.
"Is that all these emails are coming from people who are in the comfort of their own home - basically saying no to a development which would give unhoused people houses."
He says approving development is the only meaningful way to attack the housing crisis and basic supply and demand is at play, especially with Kingston's unprecedentedly low vacancy rate of 1.2%.
Robert Melo, President of the Kingston Rental Properties Association said this decision by council is a "new challenge to housing" and that the organization would be discussing their position before being able to comment.
In other cities like Ottawa, homeowners are required to declare the status of their home or risk a penalty of $250 added to their taxes, and any homeowners who is late declaring could be subject to the penalty.
Toronto has estimated that their tax could bring in as much as $66 million in revenue, which in turn could be used to build affordable housing units.
Councillor Glenn said of her motion that while a tax isn't going to fix the problem Kingston is facing when it comes to housing, it could help and could also show Kingston that there needs to be many hands on deck to address this.
"It's not meant to be punitive, it's meant to be a wake up call to our community that we can't do that all by ourselves," Glenn said.
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News