Vacant homes in Vancouver, B.C., offer lessons for Seattle | KUOW News and Information

Vacant homes in Vancouver, B.C., offer lessons for Seattle

Mar 6, 2017

Like Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., also has a housing shortage. At the same time, many new homes in Vancouver sit vacant. Vancouver’s experience could hold lessons for Seattle.

Gil Kelley is planning director of Vancouver, B.C. He said a few years ago, you could look out at the Vancouver skyline at night, you know, when you’d expect to see people cooking and watching TV, and you could spot some buildings that were mostly dark.

“A great number of units had been purchased and just sat empty,” he said. It turned out, foreign investors were turning to Vancouver real estate as a place to park cash as opposed to as a place for people to live.

So Vancouver started charging a 15 percent tax on sales of homes to foreigners. And just this year, the city imposed a 1 percent property tax on vacant homes.

Related event: Urban Innovations speaker series: Affordable Housing

Recently, Kelley says home prices in Vancouver have stabilized a little. But it’s too early to tell if vacant homes are now available to rent.

Foreign investors are looking for other cities to put their money into. Chinese and Canadian investors are currently planning a number of luxury condo buildings in Seattle and Bellevue.

Sam Assefa heads Seattle’s planning department. He says when he looks out at Seattle’s condo buildings, he sees a promising sign: “Most of them have lots of light at night and are occupied.” But he says he plans to watch for signs of unoccupied condos here.

Cities like Vancouver may have lessons to offer Seattle, as far as developing affordable housing. KUOW’s Region of Boom is hosting a panel conversation to find out. It’ll have planners from San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. It starts at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 7, at the downtown Seattle Public Library.