A grassroots campaign is using grass, among other things, as a metric in an attempt to drive change in Metro Vancouver’s insane housing and rental markets.
The citizen-led group known as Lonely Homes is canvassing large swaths of the region to record and track empty properties via its website at lonelyhomes.ca.
Group members look for unkempt grass, piled up mail and garbage as key indicators that the homes may be vacant, and then record those addresses to add to an online database.
The addresses are kept private and the database filters homes by postal codes.
“I really hope that government will pick up on this information and that it will drive some sort of policy change,” said group founder Christine Boehringer.
Boehringer’s group consists of less than half a dozen members who took on the project as an after work, side job. Most of the members live in Coquitlam, though one Vancouverite is counted amongst their ranks.
Group members kicked off the project about a year ago, and have since tracked about 50 properties — single-family homes, condos, apartments and stratas — on their website. Less than a third of those homes are in Vancouver, and group members have yet to canvass Vancouver’s West Side or Richmond. “This project has been building over the years, looking at housing prices and the lack of rental housing,” she said. “There seem to be a lot of big homes going up in Coquitlam, and in some cases, they’re remaining empty. It’s more of a frustration than anything.”
While Boehringer applauds Vancouver’s recently-introduced empty homes tax, she says the self-reporting clause in the tax could be a disincentive. In her view, Lonely Homes adds another layer of proof that a home is in fact vacant.
“I don’t know that a lot of people are going to self report,” she said. “I would hope a homeowner says, ‘You know what, the rental market is so tight in Vancouver, maybe I can start renting my house out.’ Once people actually know the volume of empty houses around, that drives some sort of a decision.” Boehringer notes that anyone can use the Lonely Homes website, though a log in and email address is required. She stresses that contact information will be kept private and not sold or disclosed to anyone.