Opinion Column

The Duel

Mansion Tax: first aid for a dying city

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

Jean Swanson and supporters rally at Chip Wilson's $75 million property to call for a Mansion Tax in Vancouver on Saturday, Sept. 23 2017. (Francis Georgian/Postmedia Network

Jean Swanson and supporters rally at Chip Wilson's $75 million property to call for a Mansion Tax in Vancouver on Saturday, Sept. 23 2017. (Francis Georgian/Postmedia Network

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This week's question: Should Vancouver have a Mansion Tax?

It’s class war in the 604.

Vancouver is a tale of two cities: the mansions and the marginalized. The poor, working and middle classes are being forced out, leaving a skyline of vertical filing cabinets for parking investor’s portfolios.

In August, punk author Chris Walter joined the exodus. “I’d lived in an apartment for 25 years, then it was sold to developers,” he said. “We looked around. Rent was double what we were paying. We couldn’t afford to live in East Van anymore.”

Developers say, “it’s a supply problem - just build more.” But each new luxury condo tower only fuels the virtually limitless demand for homes in which to shelter capital. Markets can’t fix this because markets operate to make money, not house humans.   

Jean Swanson says tax the rich. She’s an anti-poverty activist running for Vancouver city council in the October 14th byelection.  

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

Swanson wants to raise property taxes by 1% on homes worth more than $5 million and 2% on homes over $10 million. She says this will net $174 million from nearly five thousand of Vancouver’s most posh properties. “That’s enough to end homelessness right away,” Swanson said by phone. It’s relatively cheap to end homelessness. But so far, no one’s bothered trying in Vancouver. 

Swanson also wants a rent freeze. Median rents shot up 20% over last year. An average one bedroom is now $2,090.

“I’m old enough to remember when we hardly had any homeless,” Swanson said. “Welfare rates were high enough and rents low enough and government was building thousands of units of social housing.”

Over decades, provincial and federal governments stopped building housing and slashed social programs. I’ve worked on many of the same campaigns as Swanson to fight those cuts. A Mansion Tax is a kind of emergency measure - not a complete solution.

It’s time Canada approached housing the same way as healthcare – make sure everybody gets some. Extensive public housing is commonplace in many countries, but not Canada, not anymore.

A living city has a vibrant economy. What’s emerging here is a sterile necropolis of dead capital.

We need to vote out politicians enthralled by big developers. But we also need to organize, join tenants unions, disrupt evictions and squat empty condos. We need to raise the political and economic costs of the failed housing status quo.  

“I was chased out of the neighbourhhod I love,” Walter said. “It’s just f---ing pure greed. I’m a bit angry.”  

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade unionist. He’s at www.garthmullins.com or @garthmullins.