Iqaluit city council looks to tax vacant residences

Council to discuss plan Tuesday, following unanimous support from finance committee

Iqaluit city council is considering creating a tax on rental units that have been leased but remain empty. (File photo)

By David Lochead

Iqaluit city councillors are looking to tax vacant properties in the city, with an aim to free up more rental units.

City council is scheduled to discuss the proposal on Tuesday, after the city’s finance committee unanimously approved a motion last week that recommends creating a new bylaw to allow for the tax.

The amount has yet to be determined, but a key feature of the proposed vacancy tax bylaw would be allowing the owner of a building to pass the tax on to a renter.

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said he hopes this creates an incentive to fill vacancies.

The majority of properties, especially buildings, in Iqaluit are leased by the Government of Nunavut, chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma said to the committee.

Coun. Romeyn Stevenson said small businesses and individuals are pushed out of the housing market by the government, which has the financial flexibility to pay high prices to lease units and keep them vacant. Funding the government receives in the form of subsidies, he said, contributes to that financial flexibility.

“I think Mayor Bell was quite correct that the cost [of the vacancy tax] will get passed on and it should get passed on to those renters like the [Government of Nunavut],” Stevenson said.

He added that vacant, yet owned or leased, properties has been identified as a key factor in Iqaluit housing crisis by the city’s housing task force.

Kyle Sheppard, the chairperson of the finance committee, said he doesn’t know exactly how many properties leased by the Government of Nunavut are vacant or how many homes are vacant because they are in poor condition, but through anecdotes from landlords he’s heard it’s “a significant number.”

“We need to put families into housing in our community, we can’t afford to have these units sitting vacant,” he said.

The bylaw is still in its early stages, so Sheppard isn’t able to say how individuals or small business owners would be protected from property owners passing the new tax down to them. He added once the motion is passed and work on policy begins those specifics would become clearer.

“Ultimately, the goal is to have as many units occupied as possible in hopes that a vacancy tax is never payable by any party,” he said.

According to a 2020 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., 0.2 per cent of Iqaluit’s housing is vacant and available to be rented.

The same report stated the average cost of rent in Iqaluit is $2,736, more than double that of Whitehorse. Meanwhile, the Nunavut Housing Corporation estimated last year that an additional 360 units are needed in Iqaluit.

If council approves the proposal, Sheppard said the intent is to have a vacancy tax policy in place by the end of the year.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Snappy 20 on

    Hamlet council pretending to do something. The vacancy rate is .2%. Not 2%, it’s 0.2%. Which is pretty darn close to zero. This is nothing but a distraction to make the public think this council is doing something useful. They are not. We haven’t forgotten their plan to raise property taxes on homeowners to pay for the tax break to their large corporate friends. Their attempts at manipulating public opinion is laughably poor.

    • Posted by Correction on

      I think you’ve misunderstood the stat. It says “0.2 per cent of Iqaluit’s housing is vacant and available to be rented.” The last part means that empty GN units do not count towards the vacancy rate. If you include units that are vacant but not available to be rented, the figure would be higher.

  2. Posted by Why u dum on

    Sounds to me like Iqaluit Hamlet getting ready to stick it to the GN. Hmmm makes me wonder if this is smoke and mirrors, or is there a lot of empty units in Iqaluit that homeless people could live in…you decide

  3. Posted by Problem Solved on

    Lots and lots of boarded up building in Iqaluit. Certainly more than 2%.
    Expropriate them.
    Put them up for auction. But, only homeless people who have lived in Iqaluit for at least 10 years are allowed to bid.

    • Posted by Just Can’t See It on

      Homeless for 10 years. I’m sure they have the pockets to bid on these… are you really serious?

      • Posted by Idea on

        There are GN employees who are homeless.
        But I am also expecting the bids to be very low. Some of the winning bids might be $1. The winners will have to fix up the houses. There are reasons why the houses are boarded up. There are reasons why the owners have not fixed them.
        It is not a “house for free” idea. It’s an opportunity to do a lot of work and end up with a home.

  4. Posted by Peeping councilers on

    Who is currently tracking which units that are rented are vacant? How would you even figure that out? Are Kenny and Kyle going to spend their evenings and weekends peeping in units to see if they are occupied? This is a ridiculous waste of time, we are not lower mainland BC. Spend more time developing lots and supporting infrastructure and provide incentives for new developer’s to build. More units equals more tax revenue which leads to more money for the city. Keep it simple.

    • Posted by GNer on

      They can just get that information from the GN.

  5. Posted by Profoundly Stupid on

    They own the land in fee simple! They can simply cancel leases on buildings that fall into disrepair, disuse or are lots that go undeveloped. That’s what the 2016 referendum was all about.

    Much like on his silly church tax comments, Kenny Bell has no clue what falls within or outside municipal authority. This is so profoundly silly it would be hilarious if the plight of some Iqalummiut wasn’t so sad. Seriously?? A small tax? We have a housing crisis there’s boarded up houses on the land that the municipality owns in freehold while their speculator equity lease tenants are raking in millions…..

    But hey, let’s implement a tax that is going to be administratively burdensome to collect upon and may be completely thrown out due to it being outside the municipalities jurisdiction… because THAT will definitely work

  6. Posted by Not the spirit of Nunavut on

    What we have with the GN is not the spirit of Nunavut, how far we have fallen from what our government was to be is incredibly disappointing, with the housing crisis in Nunavut and how the GN handles the crisis is out right embarrassing.
    On top of that the GN makes renting for non government nearly impossible and extremely expensive.

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