Vancouver mayoral candidate Meena Wong proposes tax on vacant homes

Meena Wong says wealthy absentees should pay surcharge in Vancouver

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 September, 2014, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 November, 2015, 2:19am

Hong Kong emigrant Meena Wong, who is striving to become Vancouver's first ethnic Chinese mayor, has called for part-time residents to pay for the privilege of leaving their expensive homes vacant in the city.

Vancouver, in west Canada, is the world's most popular destination for wealthy Chinese migrants, who dominate the luxury real estate market in the city, where the average price of a detached home is C$1.2 million (HK$8.46 million).

"As a capitalist free market, I cannot control who can come [to Vancouver], who cannot come," Wong told the South China Morning Post. "But I do say, if you are going to use Vancouver as a resort, then you are going to pay more.

"If you can afford to come and buy a million-dollar home and leave it empty for eight or 10 months, then you can afford to pay more, a surcharge, or a surtax."

If you choose this city to be your vacation home, if you love it so much, then do something to make this city even better
Meena Wong, candidate

Wong said there were high vacancy rates in parts of Vancouver in spite of a shortage of affordable housing. She said asking part-time residents to pay if they wanted to leave their expensive homes empty was not a "penalty".

"I would not say 'penalty'; I would say it is a duty towards this city," said Wong, 53, who won the mayoral nomination of the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors on Sunday.

She did not single out Chinese or immigrants. But a study by Landcor Data found that 74 per cent of all luxury home sales in Vancouver's Westside and the satellite city of Richmond in 2010 were made to buyers with "purely" mainland Chinese names.

"If you choose this city to be your vacation home, if you love [this city] so much, then do something to make this city even better," said Wong, who has made housing affordability a key platform in her campaign for the mayorship of a city whose real estate is ranked the second-least affordable in the world, behind Hong Kong, according to Demographia’s* study of 378 cities around the world in nine major markets.

About 37,000 rich "immigrant investors" settled in British Columbia from 2005 to 2012, including 30,000 from Greater China. Nearly all moved to Vancouver.

Applications by would-be BC millionaire migrants surpassed 27,000 in 2010, far exceeding all applications to similar wealth-based immigration schemes by the United States, Australia and Britain combined. Of the 2010 applicants, about 25,000 were mainland Chinese.

The influx of rich mainlanders has coincided with an exodus of Hong Kong immigrants from Canada. Tens of thousands of former or part-time Vancouver residents have returned to live in Hong Kong, among an estimated 300,000-strong community of Canadians in the city.

Wong, a community health worker and long-time activist who moved to Canada aged 19, said Vancouver's high real estate values were "definitely not" something to celebrate.

Her coalition has advocated the establishment of a Vancouver housing authority to alleviate the city's high costs. Wong praised the historical role of Hong Kong's Housing Authority, which she said had "allowed many people to have an affordable home".

Wong, who was born in Beijing but fled to Hong Kong aged 11 with her doctor parents during the Cultural Revolution, is standing in the November 15 election against centre-left incumbent Gregor Robertson and journalist Kirk LaPointe of the right-leaning Non-Partisan Association.

Voters must be Canadian citizens who have lived in Vancouver for the 30 days prior to the poll, and in British Columbia for the six months before the vote. Non-residents who own Vancouver property may vote, but only if they have lived in British Columbia for the six months leading up to the election.

Wong said she was not opposed to wealthy migrants. "[But] I would ask them, how will they help … build this city? Building doesn't just mean you bring your money over. Building means you live here."

[*Update: This story has been updated to include a link to the latest Demographia study and to describe its scope]