West Vancouver to ask province for more control over tax policy

Changes needed to help housing crisis, says council

The District of West Vancouver will ask the province to allow municipalities to set different tax rates to help with the housing affordability crisis.

If the change is approved, it would allow municipalities to tax vacant homes and homes owned by non-residents, for instance, at a higher tax rate.

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West Vancouver council voted Monday night to pursue the request, and to encourage other municipalities to support them.

“I think we really have to advocate and we have to get municipal politicians on board around the province,” Coun. Nora Gambioli told fellow West Vancouver councillors. “I think we’re all getting very desperate in our small realms of jurisdiction.”

Members of West Vancouver council first raised the issue with B.C.’s minister of finance during a meeting in September.

Since then, Gambioli said she has spoken to City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, who was personally supportive of the idea. Gambioli said she’s also approached NDP MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale Bowinn Ma and the three Green Party MLAs, as well as sent the idea to other local government leaders.

The concept being proposed by West Vancouver would also allow councils to create a beneficial tax rate for more desirable classes of properties such as rental housing or denser housing types, for example.

Approval to set those kinds of different tax rates, however, must be approved by the province.

The City of Vancouver, which has already brought in a tax on vacant homes, is governed by different provincial legislation.

Gambioli said Monday she’s hopeful there will be changes, although she added in the past there has been “quite a paternalistic attitude” and a reluctance by the province to allow municipalities to have more power in setting tax policy.

Coun. Mary-Ann Booth said the sooner municipalities get more control over tax policy the better. “Really this is about incentivizing what we want and disincentivizing what we don’t want,” she said. Booth said there is precedent in Canada for different residential tax classes based on use. New Brunswick, for instance, allows different levels of taxation for principal residences than for homes which are not a principal residence, she said.

West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith said it’s frustrating to have to beg the province for taxation tools that are “common throughout the world.”

Smith said municipalities are also up against policies like the provincial homeowner grant that “makes zero economic sense” and federal and provincial inaction on housing, immigration and tax issues. “They don’t enforce the rules,” he said.

Smith said younger generations are the ones paying the price. “People of my generation are sitting pretty,” he said. “The first house I bought in West Vancouver was $45,000 in the early 1970s. My daughter and her generation . . . have no opportunity to buy a house in West Vancouver.”

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