As Chair of Ottawa Community Housing and a Councillor, affordable housing is a top concern of mine, and I am not alone. In 2020, City Council declared a Housing and Homelessness Emergency, and affordable housing is one of Council’s top priorities for the 2023-2026 Term of Council.
During this week’s Council meeting I supported the motion brought forward by Councillor Glen Gower and Mayor Sutfcliffe regarding the Vacant Unit Tax. This motion helped to clarify the VUT and misinformation in the motion brought forward by Councillors Laura Dudas and George Darouze.
According to city staff, the projected revenue from the Vacant Unit Tax (VUT) will be 13 million dollars. The program costs 2.5 million dollars to run, leaving us with 10.5M to add to our budget for affordable housing.
The 2023 affordable housing budget from the City is 15 million dollars. An additional 10.5 million dollars to the next budget for affordable housing will be welcomed, and much needed.
The VUT has also brought many residences back into the market place. With a vacancy rate of 1.8 percent, we need every unit we can get put back into the housing market and kept there.
We heard from staff that 99.1 percent of residents filed their declaration, an amazing response for year one. 95 percent of residents filed online and without assistance. It took those residents, on average three minutes to complete their declarations. Four percent of residents filed the declarations with the help of staff on the telephone, and one percent of residents filed on paper, or in person/at a drop in.
Staff also showed us, seniors have out done the general population, filing their declarations faster and to a higher percentage.
I support the VUT as one mechanism the City has to obtain further funds for affordable housing and return and keep units in the housing market. I also agree with Councillor Gower and Mayor Sutcliffe that we need to look for ways to lessen any burdens on those residents who may have justified reasons for not having filled the form earlier, or have a legitimate exemption. I am looking forward to the report from staff in October on this. I am, as always, grateful to staff and thank them for their ongoing work in providing councillors with accurate information, and an ongoing openness to making any changes that will result in making the process of declarations even more simplified going forward.