Langley Advance Times is offering this weekly feature, call it “At Your Service.”
It’s a forum in which to put questions to our local politicians about key issues facing our community and its residents.
Using a basic question-and-answer format, elected officials will be asked one question at a time and given the opportunity to respond (to a maximum of 250 words) on that said issue.
Alternating between elected groups, Langley City and Langley Township councils, Langley School Board, Langley MLAs, and Langley MPs each have a chance to participate.
The answers provided will be published in their entirety online each Sunday.
Langley City councillors are being asked: Should the City be concerned about recent Census data that shows an increasing number of potentially vacant homes in the community?
Mayor Val van den Broek
A. With a nationwide housing crisis and lengthy supportive housing waiting lists, it is obvious that every empty property is a wasted asset.
Even though numbers are shown in the census, it’s difficult to get accurate data about how many homes are actually empty in any given city or neighbourhood, and we probably have more that weren’t included.
Housing has become significantly more expensive in the Metro Vancouver area the last couple of decades, and property has become a popular investment for people who live overseas.
An annual vacancy tax, which many municipalities like Vancouver are enacting, may be a solution to putting these empty homes back in use, it could be part of a solution – that ultimately should include an emphasis on creating more housing supply overall, for all segments of the population.
Seeking the authority to tax ourselves was requested of UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities) in 2019 and the province responded that it would require a change of the community charter and they are not willing to address it at the time.
Another option was suggested, to redirect current speculation tax revenues to the communities that they were collected from. That was also denied by the province.
Municipalities will continue our discussions with the province to hopefully come to a beneficial resolution for all.
With the adoption of our new OCP (Official Community Plan), it sets the tone of what is required for developers and investors, it’s clear what our vision is, so that the new housing is created for our projected population increases.
Councillor Paul Albrecht
A. Empty homes are a concern for any community due to the shortage of housing as well as for safety reasons.
That said the provincial government has a program in place to try and reduce this practice by speculators.
We at the City, we have bylaws in place to address untidy properties.
The question mentions the census report, but I am not aware of the numbers of vacant homes in our community and if there is an issue or trend currently. If this becomes an issue, staff and council will take appropriate action.
Councillor Teri James
A. This question references a census report, but I do not know the actual numbers of vacant homes in Langley City as of today, and I believe this changes frequently in many communities across Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and the province.
Having said that, for safety reasons alone, vacant homes are a concern for any community.
I believe that when any community is experiencing this, it may be time to consider reasonable and sensible redevelopment to accommodate the growing number of anticipated residents and their livability for the future.
Councillor Gayle Martin
A. Council has not received any census information regarding empty homes in our community.
There is likely several reasons why homes are empty, ie: waiting to be demolished, people have moved and house not sold, or it could be sold/rented and tenants have not moved in.
Having said that, vacant homes could be a safety concern in any community and the provincial government has a program to reduce the number of empty homes.
Councillor Nathan Pachal
A.Council hasn’t received a report on vacant houses, and it is certainly something that we need to investigate to see if this number waxes and wanes over time or is an upward trend.
Empty houses are a concern for any community for safety reasons alone, and I know the provincial government has programs to reduce the practise of spectators keeping houses vacant.
Langley City also has a problem property team to address vacant houses that create community safety problems.
If we see empty houses, it makes sense to encourage reasonable and sensible redevelopment to accommodate missing middle housing options in our community.
Councillor Rudy Storteboom
A. In my opinion, it would be good to see an increase of available properties in our community. I would welcome a greater selection of properties, with more competitive (affordable) pricing, for purchasers and tenants.
The percentage of unoccupied residences, at a specific time, is known as the “vacancy rate.” There’s a lot of variables to consider in this, but a pattern can emerge over time. In a healthy market, with a good selection of properties, it is generally accepted that an overall vacancy rate should be between four and six per cent.
In October the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identified Canada’s national vacancy rate at 8.7 per cent and falling.
Last month Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported Metro Vancouver rental vacancy rates returning to pre-pandemic levels by dropping to a 1.2-per-cent vacancy rate from 2.6 per cent in 2020.
Likewise, the Vancouver Sun reported, last month, that the number of empty Vancouver area properties continues to drop over the past five years.
There’s an ongoing debate about the reasons that properties are vacant that include being: for sale, for rent, in transition, under renovation, for seasonal use, for investment, in foreclosure, in probate, or other.
Also, vacancy rates tend to be higher where the share of rental properties is higher, where the market is especially volatile, or where there’s a lot of new construction.
Overall, I don’t think that Langley City needs to be concerned about Census data that identifies a slight increase in vacant properties here.
Councillor Rosemary Wallace
A. The number of vacant homes in Langley City could be for a variety of reasons; for sale, for rent, in transition, under renovation, investment, foreclosure and for other reasons.
At this time I am not overly concerned about the Census data.
What I am concerned about is the increase in mortgage rates, which is being discussed by the federal government.
As municipal leaders, we should be more concerned about people not being able to afford their mortgage and renters not being able to afford increases in rent.
We need to be looking at affordable housing options.
We need to be working with developers to increase the stock of affordable housing in new developments.
Next week’s Langley Township councillors are being asked: Should the Township devote more resources to fixing potholes?
Watch for their answers online next Sunday.