The city of Port Coquitlam is set to put pressure on the provincial government — and on vacant homeowners — to crack down on foreign investment in real estate.
Last week, PoCo's smart growth committee recommended city council write a letter to Victoria to address housing affordability and ownership, a topic raised last month by the committee chair, Coun. Brad West, in response to the amount of offshore money reportedly used to buy local real estate — and drive up housing prices.
According to a city report at last Thursday's meeting, the number of PoCo properties owned by shell companies has doubled over the past year.
Still, despite skyrocketing housing costs in the Lower Mainland, city staff say there's not much evidence to point the blame on overseas buyers: B.C.'s strong economy, low bank interest rates and good mortgage terms are also boosting demand, therefore making the area attractive.
West said the province needs to implement housing speculation taxes on foreign buyers, a fee that's already in place in big cities around the world. (Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also floated the idea last year and the BC NDP is calling for a 2% tax through a series of private member's bills.)
West admits the powers of local governments are limited on housing ownership but municipalities can still take action on the appearance of properties whose owners don't live on them.
His committee is suggesting council step up its unsightly premises action by having bylaw enforcement monitor homes with absentee owners.
Residential lots left unkempt "become a real detriment to the neighbourhood," West said, citing an example of a relative's house in Burnaby where the grass of a neighbour's yard was not mowed for years.
West is also calling on residents and businesses to alert bylaw staff when they suspect a PoCo property is vacant. If it is found to be empty and is deemed unsightly, the city can force the owner to clean it up or city staff will clear it up and bill the homeowner through the annual property tax bill.
West first raised the issue in The Tri-City News a month ago, saying he was willing to put his reputation on the line to voice his concerns about the amount of foreign wealth coming into the community.
At the time, West said he had recently attended an open house in PoCo where a 2,400 sq. ft. home was listed for $1.1 million. He said the realtor told him "in no uncertain terms" that it would sell within the week and at a much higher price due to demand from overseas buyers.
West also said he's concerned with some realtors openly promoting themselves to draw Asian interest to PoCo.
The controversial topic has fuelled plenty of discussion in B.C. over the past year, especially as China's stock market is in turmoil and its economy slows.
Investors there are seeking better returns and seeing Lower Mainland real estate as a sure bet, experts say.