Why are million-dollar Vancouver homes sitting empty?

An empty home on Cambie Street

Plus, is complaining about ferry fares scaring off visitors?

State of abandon
Vancouver might finally do something about its vacant million-dollar homes, but the city is going to look into it first. In a memo to council, the city’s chief housing officer, Mukhtar Latif, laid out his department’s plan for a study on the extent of vacant home ownership in Vancouver. Together with city communications staff and interested community groups, the city plans to launch a website where the public can report vacant homes. That information could then be cross-referenced with BC Hydro data.  

In his memo, Latif laid out ten acceptable reasons for leaving a property vacant:

1) Units vacant prior to demolition or following new construction 
2)  In the process of being sold or rented
3) Vacated in anticipation of being renovated
4) “Flipping” (housing units that are bought, renovated and sold in a short period of
time, with no real ability for rental prior to sale)
5) Domestic investment property – pending decision whether to rent or leave vacant for a
later sale
6) International investment property – pending decision whether to rent or leave vacant
for a later sale
7) Probate (following the death of the owner)
8) Hoteling (owner works in the city but has a long commute so has purchased a property
to reside in during the week and is in primary residence at other times)
9) Sabbatical/Snowbirds (through work, retirement or other reasons, owner is travelling
or working abroad)
10) Owner is in hospital or in care

While research on vacant single-family homes is limited, a 2011 study by Urban Futures found that 6.7 per cent of Vancouver apartments were unoccupied—slightly less than the Canadian average. As for more anecdotal evidence, the blog Beautiful Empty Homes keeps an expanding map of properties, mainly on the Westside, that appear to be vacant (if you count boarded-up windows as a sign).

Coastal kvetching
It’s not high ferry fares hurting tourism, it’s locals complaining about them that’s scaring visitors away. Or at least that was BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan’s argument to the Coast Reporter in a feature interview over the weekend. Hear him out. Local beef with high fares and dire warnings over the future of the tourism industry turn into headlines, which turn into Google search results. So the next time a potential visitor from Ontario begins looking at a trip to the Island, they get scared off by the prospect of high fares. “They don’t even know what the fares are. They probably couldn’t tell you what our fare is within $20,” added Corrigan. Bone-headed or bang-on? Comment below. 

Ocean care
After years of negotiations, a group of coastal First Nations and the provincial government have signed a marine-use plan that will cover the waters from Haida Gwaii down to the north end of Vancouver Island. In total, 100,000 km of coast will fall under the Marine Planning Partnership, which will give the 18 First Nations involved a larger role in setting the agenda on marine conservation, the province’s seafood industry and marine spill preparedness. There was a notable absence, however: The agreement does not address activities that fall under federal jurisdiction, which includes pretty much everything.