Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is hopeful the new federal government will produce information soon on the level of foreign investment in residential real estate.
But Mr. Robertson, fresh from a visit to Ottawa where he pressed new ministers and bureaucrats about Vancouver's housing issues, says there's still much more that needs to be done than just gathering that data, which the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said it would start earlier this year.
He said the problem of Vancouver's vacant houses, whether they're left vacant by non-resident investors, immigrants or temporary residents, still needs to be tackled, as does speculation and flipping.
And he believes that houses owned by corporations and used as business investments should be taxed as businesses.
"People are getting a residential tax rate and leaving a home empty. It's a business holding, it's an investment," said Mr. Robertson. "That's why I think it should be taxed at a higher rate than a residence."
Mr. Robertson said he didn't have an opportunity to talk with John McCallum, the new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, about whether there need to be any changes in immigration policy.
There are also concerns that the local real-estate market is being distorted by men who buy properties here for their families, while declaring themselves non-residents and continuing to work elsewhere.
Mr. Robertson said the ministry can't address that right now because it is is preoccupied with bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees, as promised during the election campaign.
However, the mayor said that was an issue he touched on and which will have to be explored more in the future.
Mr. Robertson said that, although local residents are preoccupied with Chinese investors, there are many Americans starting to come back into the Vancouver market with the low dollar.
"We see investors from all over the world investing in Canada."
In addition to bringing up the issue of foreign investment in Vancouver real estate, Mr. Robertson said he got encouraging signals from the president of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. about plans to reinvest in the country's successful co-op housing program.
And, he said, in general the new Liberal government is a relief to deal with when it comes to housing issues.
"We finally have a receptive federal government to get more affordable housing built."
There has been anxiety for several years about what is going to happen with 15,000 units in B.C.'s 264 co-ops, because CMHC had said that it was no longer going to provide subsidies once their original mortgages expired.
Some have already expired and dozens more are due in the coming years.
Originally, the idea had been that, by the time 30-year mortgages expired, co-ops would be self-sufficient and able to continuing offering subsidies to tenants because they wouldn't have mortgage payments any more.
But many of them have been hit with high maintenance and renovation bills that have put them back in debt.
Mr. Robertson said that CMHC president Evan Siddall has "many creative ideas" about what can be done to help current co-ops and other non-profits not just maintain but expand the housing on their sites.
The mayor said the most immediate housing relief Vancouverites are likely to see is when the federal government provides a tax break for developers who build rental buildings, likely in next year's budget.
For decades, there has been little or no construction of rental apartment buildings in Canadian cities. Tax-incentive programs used in the 1960s and '70s, which produced many of the four-storey apartment buildings in the region, were ended.
At the same time, provinces passed new laws that enabled ownership of condos, which spurred most buildings to move to that new form of multiunit construction instead.
Mr. Robertson said it's not clear whether Vancouver, which has provided its own incentives to developers like bonus density or parking reductions, will be able to reduce some of those when the federal tax-incentive program is in place.