The city of Vancouver has had a problem with vacant homes and in a bid to push landlords into leasing their properties, the city recently slapped owners of vacant units with an additional $7,450 ($10,000 CN) annual tax. And for the landlords who lie about keeping their properties empty, additional fines are set. However, the city has a stock of multimillion-dollar homes far out of reach of the average residents. Overall, vacant or temporarily occupied dwellings have more than doubled since 2001 to 66,719 last year as neighborhoods are thinning out, according to a Bloomberg report.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said there has been scrutiny on landlords, including many from overseas who have put their money in investment properties where windows remain dark throughout the year. He said that prompted the vacancy tax, which city officials hope will increase the supply of rentals in a city facing a near-zero vacancy rate. The province also imposed a 15 percent tax on foreign buyers last August. Robertson said it is not unacceptable for so much housing to be treated as a commodity.

“Housing is for homes first, and as investments second. Vancouver will continue to do all it can to maintain and protect affordable homes, and pursue all tools available to ensure the best use of all our housing.”

Vancouver real estate is expensive enough that it’s leading to a surplus of vacant luxury homes.

Andy Yan of Simon Fraser University’s City Program said there is concern that the city is turning into a playground for the rich as luxury real estate squeezes industry and prices out the middle class. The provincial economy leads Canadian growth and job creation, yet its public schools are suffering from declining enrollment and households earn below the national median. The number of residents on Vancouver’s west side — long favored by families and an easy commute to downtown — has fallen 3 percent since 2001, in contrast to 5 percent growth in population across the whole city, Yan said. He noted that the wealthy neighborhoods are unattainable.

“They have become just luxury items like Ferraris. They’re not affordable for most local incomes.”

After the province of British Columbia began taxing international buyers 15-percent extra on homes in and around Vancouver, foreign investors have turned their attention – and cash – to Toronto. David Eby, a member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and the New Democratic Party’s housing critic, said Toronto could be following in Vancouver’s footsteps toward a housing crisis for locals.

“One of the risks that Toronto has is that, because wages are a little bit higher there, prices could escalate for longer than they did in Metro Vancouver before the government takes action.  It’s hard to know where the ceiling is on these real estate prices if international speculation is left to run its course. We don’t know how much capital is out there looking for investment in housing in major Canadian cities.”