Vancouver's Empty Homes Nearly Doubled In A Decade

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Walk around Vancouver, and you'll see homes everywhere — condo towers springing up downtown, and single-family homes covering the land outside of it.

If you're from out of town, you might think that all these homes are where local residents live. For the most part, you'd be right.

vancouver condos
Condos in downtown Vancouver. (Photo: Justin Lightley/Getty Images)

But a growing proportion of these homes is being made up by "non-resident occupancy" — a phenomenon that sees residences being left empty, or occupied by foreign or temporary residents.

In fact, the phenomenon has almost doubled in Metro Vancouver from 2001 to 2011, according to a study released Wednesday by Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of SFU's City Program.

empty homes

Yan looked at "non-resident occupancy" in Metro Vancouver using Census data for the past three decades.

His aim was to show that it persists not just in the City of Vancouver, but in neighbouring cities, like Surrey, Richmond and Burnaby, he told The Huffington Post Canada.

"This is a pattern that seems to occur a lot in condos, as opposed to a lot of single-family homes," he said.

He found that non-resident occupancy in Metro Vancouver grew from 3.5 per cent in 2001 to 6.2 per cent in 2006 and 6.1 per cent in 2011.

The growth is even more pronounced when you look at the sheer number of homes that don't have local residents living in them.

dwellings

The number of homes seeing non-resident occupancy throughout Metro Vancouver grew from 27,564 in 2001 to 58,229 a decade later.

And of these units, 87 per cent weren't occupied by anyone, according to a study by Urban Futures cited in the report. Only 13 per cent were occupied by foreign and/or temporary residents.

dwellings
(Chart via Urban Futures)

The City of Vancouver made up most of this growth, as non-resident occupied dwellings went from 12,884 in 2001 to 22,169 in 2011.

But the suburb of Surrey also saw significant growth, as non-occupancies went from 2,816 to 11,139 there in the same time frame.

Regional issue

The City of Vancouver has responded to concerns about empty homes by looking into a tax on secondary residences that aren't being used by long-term tenants, or that are only being used for services like Airbnb.

With non-resident occupied units growing in outlying cities, Yan thinks it may be time for such solutions to reach a wider audience.

"Other municipalities may want to consider this type of bylaw," he said.

Non-local resident occupied homes have also grown as more and more people have found themselves without a place to live in the City of Vancouver alone — the number of people without homes in the city has grown from 76 in 1986, according to the Urban Core Homeless Committee, to 1,847 in 2016, said the COV's homeless count.

people without homes

The data builds on research released by the City of Vancouver earlier this year, which found that 10,800 out of 225,000 homes (4.8 per cent) had sat empty for a year or more.

That study relied on data from BC Hydro from 2002 to 2014, which was then reviewed by industry experts. It only examined the fact that homes weren't occupied, not why they were empty.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told The Globe and Mail that Yan's data "gives us more reason to aggressively move on the empty homes tax."

andy yan
Andy Yan, urban planner and acting director of the City program at Simon Fraser University.

Robertson's comments were a far cry from what he said about Yan's previous work.

Last year, Yan completed a study showing that 66 per cent of homes in three wealthy Vancouver west side neighbourhoods were purchased by people with non-anglicized Chinese names.

The top occupation among these buyers was listed as "homemaker" or "housewife." "Businessperson" came second and "students" owned eight properties in that study.

Robertson's response to that study: "What we don't need ... is the blaming of any one group of people — or any one kind of last name — for the challenge of housing affordability."

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