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West Van mayor to discuss housing issues with municipal affairs minister

Mark Sager said he’d like to see more of the $6.58M in vacancy tax paid by West Van owners come back to the municipality
West Vancouver waterfront condos in 2016.| Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager says he’s hopeful the province will consider putting some of the speculation and vacancy tax collected from property owners in the municipality towards new initiatives in the municipality.

Sager made the comments this week ahead of a meeting with Nathan Cullen, provincial minister of municipal affairs, about housing issues in the municipality, considered one of the most unaffordable in Metro Vancouver.

Sager said given the more than $6.58 million in speculation and vacancy tax paid annually by property owners in West Vancouver, “it would seem only fair” that more of that money came back to the municipality to support housing projects.

“We’ve got [housing] needs here. Those funds would help enormously, if at least some of them are kept locally,” he said.

Many of the new West Vancouver councillors elected in October ran on platforms of prioritizing the desires of current community residents over the potential housing needs of future residents.

Sager also voiced concerns about the potential size and scope of a redevelopment of Inglewood Care Centre that would include a “worker housing” component.

Sager said this week council has been discussing one specific West Vancouver initiative behind closed doors that he hopes the province will support, but added he couldn’t provide any details yet.

Sager added he’s not sure the speculation and vacancy tax has actually deterred owners from leaving their properties vacant in West Vancouver. The municipality estimates up to 1,500 properties are currently vacant, about 10 per cent of West Vancouver’s housing stock. Calculations by the province put that figure only slightly lower, at 1,365 vacant properties.

Sager said he’s hopeful the minister will be open to other “slightly more novel ideas” on how to address the problem.

“Obviously it’s in everyone’s interests to have homes occupied,” he said, adding a vacant home “kills the energy in the neighbourhood.”

The issue of the speculation and vacancy tax is one of several Sager said he’s hoping to discuss with Cullen.

Recently, new Premier David Eby announced the province will be setting housing targets that municipalities will be expected to meet based on the local government’s own housing needs reports. If municipalities don’t meet the targets, the provincial government is prepared to step in, Eby indicated.

Sager said so far, he doesn’t know what that might mean in West Vancouver, or what the province stepping in might look like.

Sager said he hopes it would not involve the province over-ruling local governments in cases where residents were strongly opposed to particular projects.

“I can’t imagine that the province won’t be sensitive to community desire,” he said. “That would just be a disaster. I just can’t see how that would work.”

The province has yet to identify what the municipal targets will be, or which municipalities will be under the microscope first on housing issues.

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