VANCOUVER -- The City of Vancouver's Empty Homes Tax has brought in nearly $40 million in net revenue since it was introduced two years ago, the city said Wednesday.

The city's second annual report on the EHT also showed decreases in the number of vacant and exempted properties across the city.

"The main objective of Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax is to influence property owners to put their empty properties on the rental market and the data shows that is happening," said Mayor Kennedy Stewart in a news release announcing the report's findings.

The report itself is more equivocal.

"Isolating the effect of a single policy like the EHT in a market as dynamic as the City of Vancouver’s is challenging," the report reads, in a section labeled, "Is the Empty Homes Tax working?"

"City staff have noted positive trends," the section continues. "We plan to monitor the following key performance indicators over time:

  • Number of properties required to declare
  • Change in vacant and exempt properties
  • Breakdown of exemptions by type
  • Change in tenanted properties
  • Occupancy status of previously vacant properties
  • Assessed value of properties subject to EHT"

The total number of unoccupied properties decreased 22 per cent from 2017 to 2018, according to the city's release. In real numbers, that equates to 1,127 fewer properties exempted from the tax and 549 fewer properties reported vacant and not exempt.

More than 4,200 properties were exempt from the tax in 2018, and almost 2,000 were vacant and not exempt.

The vast majority of exemptions were for properties that were either changing hands (40 per cent claimed a property transfer exemption) or being renovated (another 34 per cent claimed this exemption), a finding that is notable because it suggests the exemptions are temporary.

Other exemptions - specifically, the exemption for strata buildings that have bylaws prohibiting owners from renting out their units - are more permanent. Some 14 per cent of exemptions claimed in 2018 were due to strata restrictions, according to the annual report.

The number of "tenanted" properties in the city increased from 46,770 in 2017 to more than 50,000 in 2018, an increase of seven per cent.

Money raised through the EHT is used to fund affordable housing initiatives. Nearly half of the roughly $40 million the tax has brought in so far has been allocated to the city's recently approved "Community Housing Incentive Program," which will provide grants to non-profit organizations that run social and co-op housing. Some $17 million has been allocated to the program.

Other uses of the funds include the purchase of Ross House, an SRO hotel in the Downtown Eastside, for $3.8 million, as well as additional support services for renters worth $5.8 million.