New website points out empty houses across Metro Vancouver
By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter
Within the past year, the housing crisis has plagued homeowners across the Metro Vancouver region due to the growth of the housing market bubble and its overall unpredictability. As prices for single-family homes continue to rise, the amount of new residents purchasing property begins to dwindle and spread farther from the regions’ core in the hopes of more affordable spaces. A Coquitlam woman who wants to get to the bottom of the inflating housing market issue thinks she may have found one of the key players in what she calls “lonely homes.”
“The idea began to build slowly starting in January 2016 when there was a significant amount of media attention focused on the lack of rental housing in the Lower Mainland. At the time there were a number of news stories about the challenges of finding affordable homes for refugees and the number of renovictions in some areas of the region,” shared Christine Boehringer on her website, lonelyhomes.ca. “We saw a number of what appeared to be empty homes and wondered how common they are. We wrote down some addresses and checked on them regularly to see if they were empty over a period of time and talked about it with a few friends. Our discussion evolved into all of the ways these empty homes affect us.”
Boehringer wrote that the website is a way to spread awareness about lonely homes as a growing issue that is affecting communities at large. She hopes to open the discussion as to why there are an increasing number of empty homes and what measures could be taken to adjust certain housing policies.
Currently, the website has racked up 297 lonely homes—271 of them being single-family individual houses. Notably, the homes are self-reported.
Coquitlam City Councillor Craig Hodge, who is wary of the website, commented to CBC about his concerns, stating that having residents reporting street to street isn’t the way he wants to gather information on homes. His argument stands on the fact that it isn’t the way he wants to build a community “because it has the potential to cause friction.” In fact, he raised the perspective for the rights of private ownership, suggesting that they should “use their property as they please.”
“There have been a lot of news stories about real estate in the Lower Mainland and lots of data including estimates of empty homes from older census data and other sources,” shares Boehringer on her website. “Estimates from 10,800 to 58,000 empty homes in the Lower Mainland have been generated from different sources. These are shocking numbers, the equivalent of small cities. The issue of empty homes, their impact on communities and the environment, crime, and homelessness, and even why they are empty, hasn’t generated a lot of discussion and public input.”
Ideally, Boehringer hopes to present the findings of her website to local government by March to see the release of lonely homes into the housing market. Recently, the city introduced an Empty Homes Tax in which owners must pay a one per cent tax on the current property value of their homes if unoccupied after six months.
“Homes shouldn’t be commodities,” Boehringer said on the website. “They should be available for people to live in and raise their families.”