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Nova Scotia NDP proposed a new tax to get developers to stop delaying builds

Legislation to encourage the development of vacant lots

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Claudia Chender wants to encourage housing construction by taxing developers who are holding onto vacant lots.

On Oct. 12, 2023, Chender tabled a bill to implement a vacant land tax. The tax would apply to vacant lots zoned for residential development. Revenue collected would be allocated towards affordable housing initiatives.

“As the housing crisis accelerates it is more obvious than ever that we need to develop properties,” she said.

Nova Scotia needs an additional 70,000 homes by 2030, according to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 33,000 of those need to be affordable units.

New legislation

Chender unveiled the plan for the legislation at a press conference on Sept. 28.

“This tax on vacant properties would encourage the development of properties into much-needed housing,” she said.

The press conference was held in front of the Bloomfield school site, one of the vacant lots the tax aims to target.

“The tax will disincentivize developers who allow lots like this, that should be housing, to sit empty year after year,” Chender said. “While Nova Scotians are struggling with the shortage of housing, properties like this on transit, close to schools and workplaces are sitting empty.”

The Bloomfield site is a 1.16-hectare property in the north end that was supposed to accommodate 400 units.

“The owner of the site has recently stated demolition is too expensive and there’s no timeline to develop this property,” Chender said. “It’s too expensive not to develop this property and all the properties like it sitting vacant in the HRM.”

Developer response

The BANC Group of Companies, the developer who owns the Bloomfield site, was contacted for comment. They declined to speak to all media about the proposed tax when reached by phone.

Sam Krawec lives near the Bloomfield site and walks by the property every day.

“It feels like the developer and the government are mocking people who need affordable housing,” Krawec said in the press conference. “We could have more neighbours, and our community could be even more diverse, but if developers would rather leave a property empty than make space for the homes we need, our community and government should do something about it.”

The proposed legislation must be enacted at a provincial level to allow municipalities to implement the tax.

The Dalhousie Gazette contacted John Lohr, Nova Scotia’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, for comment. Lohr’s Progressive Conservative Party would have the votes to pass the legislation. In response, we received a statement on behalf of the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

“While we are supportive of any measure that helps to encourage development and otherwise speed up construction, we think there are more positive and proactive ways to incent housing development … We would encourage our municipal partners to seek out opportunities that would further reduce barriers to development rather than imposing new penalties,” the statement said. “We would need to examine the details of and possible impacts of any new tax being proposed.”

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