Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow says at least one staff member involved in the “fatally flawed” plan to implement a vacant home tax is no longer on the job.

Speaking with reporters ahead of a city council meeting Wednesday, Chow said “the program was a complete mess, the way it was rolled out” and said she is working to fix it alongside senior staff and Budget Chief Shelley Carroll.

“The person that designed the program is no longer with the city,” Chow said when asked if there were any consequences for the disastrous rollout.

Thousands of people who live in their homes were shocked to receive a bill for thousands of dollars this year, prompting long lineups of confused and distraught residents at city hall. 

Chow said 110,000 homeowners who received a bill and appealed have already been sent a letter saying that the charges have been reversed. She said another 48,000 people who received a bill this year but didn't last year will be sent a letter today advising them that they don't have to pay. She said just around 11,000 homeowners who actually declared their properties vacant need to pay the bill this year.

Asked if the main problem was poor communication, Chow said “Oh, it’s more than that” and reiterated that the program was “deeply flawed.”

She said the program failed to take into account people who are set up for automatic withdrawal and don't necessarily read their tax bills each year, people who don't speak English, snowbirds, and other people who may not have seen the notice telling them that they have to fill out a declaration.

“How could it be possible that last year only 11,000 people were part of the group that had to declare their place vacant —  165,000 tax bills went out,” Chow said. “Excuse me, I'm sure anyone can do math. Probably your younger sister if you have one can do math to say ‘wait a second, 160,000 bills going out but it should only go to 11,000 people? What's going on with the other 160,000?’ No, it did not work on many levels.”

Despite the fact that the program has been a mess, Chow said she thinks the tax is still needed in order to help tackle the housing shortage crisis.

“Why are we doing it? Because we want to have a fair policy against speculation that makes homes more available,” Chow said. “So if we can reduce the number of vacant units out in the city, that means more homes would be out in the market for people to live in.”

Some councillors have proposed axing it all together. Council is debating how to fix it today.