‘Not fixable’: Some councillors want Vacant Home Tax scrapped, but Chow vows to fix it

More than 100,000 homeowners in Toronto ended up with bills that are now being reversed. Mayor Chow is looking to overhaul the program while some city councillors want it cancelled. Mark McAllister reports.

By Michael Talbot and Mark McAllister

Fix it, or nix it?

That’s the question Toronto city council will debate this week as it continues to grapple with the fallout from the disastrous spring rollout of the Vacant Home Tax.

The tax was supposed to help Toronto deal with a burgeoning housing crisis by discouraging property owners from keeping desperately-needed homes empty. Instead, it snowballed into a bureaucratic debacle that saw bewildered owners of occupied homes hit with anxiety-inducing bills for thousands of dollars.

The City quickly reversed those charges and says it will be adding a number of measures to help the process this year, while further improving it for next year.

But Etobicoke councillor, Vincent Crisanti, says it’s time to axe the tax. He’s introducing a motion at Wednesday’s council meeting that calls on council to eliminate the tax, arguing it’s “unfixable.”

His motion, which was seconded by councillor Stephen Holyday, seeks to have the tax “immediately” cancelled, while also directing City Staff to report back to city council by the fourth quarter of 2024 on “innovative ways to handle the housing affordability crisis in Toronto.”

“The City of Toronto has received over 60,000 complaints and hundreds of residents have wrongfully received a hefty tax bill in the thousands of dollars,” Crisanti’s motion reads. “It is clear the Vacant Home Tax is not only invasive to our taxpayers, but it is also disruptive and inconvenient beyond repair.”

Crisanti told CityNews his office has been overwhelmed with complaints about the tax, saying it has “literally taken control of my office.”

“What I’m hoping for, is that I would be successful in asking council to cancel this tax,” he told CityNews on Monday.

“I think if we succeed in doing that, then it just goes away because a lot of the comments or responses that I’m getting is that these taxes have become very disruptive, and it’s broken at the core and it is beyond repair.”

“It needs to go away,” he stressed. “It’s too broken to overhaul. Not fixable. This needs to be canceled.”

Homeowners had until March 15 to declare if their home was vacant — or face an additional one per cent tax based on the assessed value of their property.

Many who were hit with bills despite living in their homes said they didn’t know they had to claim their occupancy, while others said they filled out the forms on time, but still received a bill.

Those who failed to declare their home status on time, but disputed the Vacant Home Tax bill they received, were initially hit with a $21 late fine, which was later waived as Mayor Olivia Chow tried to make amends to the angry masses.

Chow apologized for the mess, saying the system was set in place before she took office.

“It is not acceptable the way that we rolled out this program … I promise you that I will clean this up,” she said earlier this month.

While Cristiani fronts the ‘nix it’ side, Chow remains steadfast that the tax is beneficial and the process can be fixed, despite admitting its initial design was “fatally flawed.”

“In the third quarter of this year … you’re going to see a completely redesigned program,” she told CityNews last Friday while defending the concept of the Vacant Home Tax. 

“We need to find ways to make sure that these speculators, some of them (own) apartment buildings that are empty for a whole year, are financially disciplined in a way that we can take that money and use it to build affordable housing.” 

“The concept is a great idea,” she maintained. “We will redesign it and it will work this coming year.” 

“You don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, right?”

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