A proposed mansion taxation plan can fight housing insecurity in Vancouver

City councillor’s motion to tax wealthier homeowners can enrich social housing programs

Councillor Jean Swanson of COPE has motioned for a mansion tax that will target residential properties worth over $5 million. (ShutterStock/romakoma)

Councillor Jean Swanson of COPE has motioned for a mansion tax that will target residential properties worth over $5 million. (ShutterStock/romakoma)

Vancouver City Council could see a radical new proposal led by Councillor Jean Swanson of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) which motioned for a so-called mansion tax that will target residential properties worth over $5 million. 

It would be a progressive tax plan wherein a property will be charged one per cent for every five million dollars of value. Swanson said she hopes the revenue generated through the mansion tax will be reinvested into social programs, including the construction of more modular housing projects. Swanson estimates that the city “could get about $225 million extra a year” and that “the vast, vast majority of homeowners wouldn’t be affected at all.”

As anybody in Metro Vancouver can tell you, housing here is anything but affordable. Once upon a time, you could own a home and support a family by working one job. That way of life is largely a thing of the past. 

In March, the benchmark price for a house in Metro Vancouver was $1.36 million, which marked the twelfth consecutive month where the record for highest benchmark price was surpassed. If things are that bad for the working and middle class families, then consider how bad it is for the homeless people of Vancouver.

A study conducted by the City of Vancouver in 2020 estimated that 2,095 individuals are unhoused in some way. One of several reasons for the rates of homelessness is a “lack of affordable, safe, and stable housing.” The housing market and related industries cannot and will not solve the homelessness problem on their own. Action to alleviate homelessness in the city — and in the country as a whole — must come from the public sector.

It is inevitable that some locals will cry out against the mansion tax as an attack on all homeowners by taking their hard-earned money and shovelling it into yet another “wasteful” government program. 

These notions push an agenda in favour of the real estate industry and NIMBYism, while homelessness is caused and exacerbated by income inequality. 

In 2020, the Parliamentary Budget Office published a report that found that the upper one per cent of Canada owns a quarter of the wealth and the average homeowner has little chance of snagging a five million dollar piece of realty. The target demographic for this mansion tax will be far from most residents and their neighbours. 

Secondly, programs that aid the less fortunate of society are never excessive no matter what anybody says. There is no justifiable reason to deny aid to those in need. If a nation-wide wealth tax could create an additional $10 billion to the federal budget, imagine what a mansion tax would generate for Vancouver’s municipal budget.

Homelessness is a radical problem, and solving it calls for a radical response. In order to meaningfully help the homeless population, the taxation situation in Vancouver has to change into a more equitable system. More than just funding modular housing, there is potential for the tax to pay for infrastructure, education, Indigenous affairs, addiction treatment, mental health treatment, and so many other programs. The bump in the city budget will benefit many people and the city at-large. 

Vancouver has suffered for too long through a ridiculously speculative housing market. While the dangerously inflating market continues its unsustainable path, there is still time to reverse course and mitigate a potential disaster. Providing shelter for the homeless is one such method toward a better future where no person needs to deal with housing insecurity.