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Windsor council approves vacant home tax

Vacant home on Edison Street in Windsor, Ont. on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor) Vacant home on Edison Street in Windsor, Ont. on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)
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Windsor City Council approved a three per cent vacant home tax at a city hall meeting Monday in an effort to encourage homeowners of vacant properties to either sell or rent out the properties to increase the pool of available housing.

“Recognizing that we're in a housing crisis and that the municipality’s role is somewhat limited oftentimes, but whatever we can do, whatever tools we do have in the toolbox, I always say we should exhaust as much as we can to try to encourage more housing in our community,” said Ward 2 Coun. Fabio Costante.

Costante represents a ward with dozens of boarded-up houses, guessing the city has over 100 to contend with.

Under the new bylaw, property owners have to self-declare if a home is vacant or lived in, but nothing further would be required of property owners living in their own homes.

The new tax goes into effect New Year’s Day and is dependant on the Ministry of Finance giving consent.

Council also added in the provision where people who are found to be misreporting the status of their home can be subject to a $3,500 fine.

“We are dealing with a housing crisis. We do want to see these houses get activated, and it's not even just for housing, per se, but it's also to, you know, enhance the neighborhood as well making neighbourhoods safer, make it more livable, not having to worry about the risks that are inherent in in vacant properties,” Costante said.

“Things like fires and nuisance and squatting and things. You know, behavior like that, that often happens in and around vacant properties is something that could also be mitigated through this bylaw.”

The city has been able to impose such a tax since the province announced the Fair Housing Plan in 2017 meant to stimulate affordable housing.

There is a list of exemptions including residential units considered under construction, renovation or redevelopment for sale or for lease for a period up to a year, and residential units that are vacant for up to two years due to hospitalization, long term care or death.

“These are secondary, third, fourth, fifth properties that are owned by other individuals or corporations that are again left vacant, with no intention of doing anything with them,” Costante explained. “So for example, if a property is currently being renovated, and there are city permits that have been pulled to do the renovations, for example, those properties wouldn't be captured. If a property is up for sale and as a result has been vacant for several months during the sale process, those properties would not be captured.”

Any surplus money the city gets beyond cost recovery for staffing will go into housing programs, projects and initiatives.

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