Ben Stewart

Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart

The government says its speculation tax has succeeded in boosting the rental housing supply, but B.C. Liberal housing critic Ben Stewart says the tax is a total failure.

“Data released today regarding the NDP’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) shows that the tax is a continued failure, costing British Columbians thousands of dollars while hiding community-specific data and doing very little to make housing more affordable in B.C.,” Stewart, MLA for Kelowna West, said in a BC Liberal caucus news release on Monday.

But in a government release, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said community-specific data have been forwarded to local mayors.

“Mayors have recently received region-specific 2019 SVT declaration data for their communities. This data will help inform consultation with mayors and discussion on whether any changes to the tax are necessary,” the government release said.

Stewart said the tax has fallen short of the projected $200 million it was supposed to collect. The government said it has raised $130 million since being introduced in 2018.

“This new data shows that in addition to failing to target speculators, the NDP is not investing the revenue they collect back into housing in the way they promised,” said Stewart, noting the government has collected $4.1 million from the Central Okanagan, but only spent $2.6 million on housing in the region.

“When the SVT was introduced, the NDP government promised the money would be spent on new housing in local communities where the tax was being collected,” Stewart said.

The province said the speculation tax has helped put empty homes back into the housing market.

“The 2019 declaration data and reports from organizations like the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation show an increasing number of properties are being repurposed as long-term rentals, and this shift is critically important for our urban communities,” Robinson said. “This change in behaviour, and the tax continuing to capture speculators while exempting almost all British Columbians, shows this tax is working.”

The government says B.C. housing starts were 16% higher in 2019 compared to 2018 in the SVT regions while vacancy rates throughout the province increased by 7%.

The tax is applied to homes and condos that are left empty, largely by foreign owners and people who live out of province. The hope is owners will rent them out rather than leave them empty and pay the extra tax.