Vacant homes aren’t driving Vancouver’s real estate prices, says report

Slides from the city’s Empty Homes Research Study

Slides from the city’s Empty Homes Research Study

Slides from the city’s Empty Homes Research Study

Slides from the city’s Empty Homes Research Study

Non-occupancy rate of homes in Vancouver is similar to other municipalities

Vacant homes are not driving real estate prices in the city of Vancouver, according to a new study presented to council on Tuesday. The landmark study, a joint project of the city’s housing staff and software company Ecotagious, was undertaken to address public concern that empty homes in Vancouver could be impacting housing affordability and neighbourhood vibrancy. Those concerns, apparently, are unfounded. “We had this hysteria that we had all these empty houses, and they weren’t,” said Coun. Kerry Jang, speaking after the presentation by city staff.

The non-occupancy rate has remained flat since 2002 and is in line with the rest of Metro Vancouver and other municipalities in Canada. The researchers used anonymous electricity consumption data for 225,000 homes provided by BC Hydro. Of those homes, 10,800 were empty, and 90 per cent were apartments.

Including all single-family homes, apartments and multi-family dwellings, the study found a non-occupancy rate of 4.8 per cent in 2014, with rates of short-term non-occupancy (two months) twice as high as long-term non-occupancy (12 months.) The researchers found no relationship between non-occupancy and price growth.

Anne McMullin, president of the Urban Development Institute, says she hopes this report will settle the issue of empty homes, which has garnered much media attention. “Vacant homes aren’t the issue that is driving up prices, it’s the lack of supply and increasing demand,” she said. “We know that townhomes and duplexes and fourplexes are desirable, but we’re not building them because those would have to go in areas that are traditionally the single-family homes and people don’t want to give that up. If we really want to address the issue of affordability, we need to provide a variety of home types, and that’s really what is going to allow people to stay in the city of Vancouver.”

Even northwest Vancouver, an area including Point Grey, only showed 1.6 per cent empty single-family homes. This area has received much media attention for the number of homes perceived to be owned by absent foreign investors. Across the city, empty single-family homes measured just above one per cent for the entire period between 2002 and 2014.

Growth in non-occupied units, the study concluded, is driven by growth in the housing stock, and the report recommended that the city try to increase the types of housing that generally remain occupied.

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