Laura Gillanders started tidying up the outside of a home down the street from her in Richmond’s Seafair neighbourhood as a neighbourly act of good will.
“It was sold, someone purchased it, built a new mansion on the lot,” Gillanders said. “For the first three year, I didn’t really mind. But it’s been three more years, and I got fed up with it.”
So she sent out her annoyance to the world via Twitter.
“Hey, owners of empty house for 6 years now. I clean up newspapers from all over your lawn, I bring in your green bin that the gardeners leave on the curb,” her tweet read. “I’m tired of being neighbourly RENT OUT YOUR HOUSE!”
Gillanders said the mansion is symptomatic of a much bigger issue.
“We are in a housing crisis and there are in empty homes. Children have to be raised in a condo and a house just sits empty. Families should be able to live here.”
A family used to live in a previous smaller house on the lot, she said, with kids who attended school and parents who were active participants in their city.
Now, her children’s school, Alfred B. Dixon Elementary, is on the school district’s closure list because of declining overall district enrolment.
“We’ve seen sports associations have to merge because there aren’t enough kids,” Gillanders said. “Hockey, soccer, lacrosse…”
Some residents have proposed a tax on empty homes, similar to the one Vancouver brought in last year, but she isn’t sure if that’s the right solution.
“An empty homes tax is a good idea, but there’s a lot of issues on how it’s set up,” she said. “I think at the municipal level, there can be lots of things that can be done.”
City spokesman Ted Townsend could not arrange for an interview with a city councillor, but said in an email to Black Press Media that there’s been no direction from council at this time to consider an empty home tax.
When the issue has been brought up in the past, Townsend said, most councillors were unconvinced it was necessary or that a tax would be “fair or effective.”
He said he could not provide any firm numbers on empty homes in Richmond, but estimates they “represent a small percentage.”
Gillanders hopes for a new group on council after the October civic election. “I don’t think our current city council has the political will to do anything creative.”
If it were up to her, she said she’d prefer incentives for people to rent out their homes, to shrink Richmond’s lot size, or to allow for coach homes and laneway houses – though she acknowledges both residents and council have resisted that idea.
“A lot of people don’t want the density because they want the idyllic large lots for their big family house,” she said.
“I don’t know how to get around that, but we’ve got to think of more creative ways…. The reality is that they just sit empty.”