04/27/2015 03:44 EDT | Updated 04/27/2015 04:59 EDT

Vancouver Vacant Homes Crackdown Could Come Via Public Tips

City officials want to know if vacant homes are contributing to skyrocketing housing prices, and they're hoping the public can help...

The City of Vancouver is hoping to launch a new website so the public can help pinpoint and tackle the growing issue of vacant homes.

The proposed site would give Vancouverites the opportunity to report suspected empty homes to city officials, according to a memo written by Mukhtar Latif, the city's chief housing officer.

The city would then take the reports and match them with BC Hydro data to help determine which houses have been sitting unoccupied for a long period of time.

Latif's memo, dated April 20 and made public on Sunday, admits city staff has had trouble identifying which homes are empty and why, because of the lack of research and data available on the issue. He adds that the public's help in confirming which houses are empty would be a considerable help.

“We’ve all heard people asking why Vancouver is so expensive and telling us to look at all these empty houses. It’s a persistent question, so let’s get to the bottom of it and find out,” city Coun. Kerry Jang told Metro News.

Jang told the newspaper that residents often blame Vancouver's sky-high housing prices on vacant homes and prospective foreign buyers, and says the city hopes the website will help confirm whether or not that frustration is justified.

He added that if the empty homes are indeed driving housing prices up while rental availability continues to drop, the city would look to the provincial or federal government for help, according to News 1130.

Vancouver Tumblr blog Beautiful Empty Homes shone a spotlight on the city's vacant properties last year.

"Leaving homes empty damages the city's economic vitality and makes it nearly impossible for young families to consider living in large swathes of the city," the site's co-founder told The Huffington Post B.C. at the time.

In March, the city of Richmond proposed a new bylaw that would see local owners fined for dangerous, vacant homes that bleed the city's resources dry. At the time, Mayor Malcolm Brodie explained that many homeowners cut off power to the buildings while they wait for the right time to develop or sell, according to CBC News. In the meantime, empty buildings attract problematic activity — like squatting or vandalism — and the city ends up paying to deal with the problems.

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