Vancouver to make pitch for review of homeowners’ grant

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Rising values mean fewer people are eligible for break on property taxes

Kelly Sinoski
The Vancouver Sun

The City of Vancouver plans to lobby the B.C. government for a review of the provincial homeowners’ grant program, as fewer people qualify for the grant because of rising property assessments in Metro Vancouver.

The basic homeowners grant, provided by the province to reduce the property tax paid by a homeowner on a primary residence, is $570. Seniors, veterans and people with disabilities may qualify for additional grants of $275.

But the amount of the grant starts dropping for properties worth more than $1.2 million and hits zero when the property value reaches $1.35 million. The province increased the thresholds to these levels earlier this year, saying it meant 91 per cent of homeowners would be eligible for the grant.

But a staff memo slated to go before council next week suggests the number of Vancouver homeowners eligible for the grant has dropped significantly in the past decade, from 84.5 per cent in 2006 to just 64.7 per cent this year.

“If the policy framework is to support current homeowners from escalating costs, they’re failing in that the percentage of property owners currently eligible has diminished,” acting mayor Raymond Louie said.

The move by Vancouver follows defeat of a motion forwarded by Burnaby on Thursday at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, which called for a review to make the homeowners’ grant more equitable across the province.

Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal urged delegates to support the motion, which suggested the “unfair threshold” would mean only 76 per cent of homeowners in his city would receive a grant this year and called on the UBCM to petition the province for a review to determine if there could be a more equitable distribution of the grant across all regions.

“It affects those on limited income,” he said. “They not only lose basic grant but also the seniors’ grants. When you add up all of these things, it really hits hard any homeowners struggling to keep up with those taxes,” Dhaliwal said.

However, some rural homeowners feared the idea would hurt the $200 a year grant that residents of northern and rural areas get on top of the basic homeowner grant.

Brenda Leigh, a director in the Strathcona Regional District, said she appreciates that homeowners grants should be continually reviewed in urban areas, but it is “absolutely wrong” to try to take money away from rural pockets.

“The grant is meant to assist northern and rural residents with costs associated with having to live or work in rural areas. It has nothing to do with assessments in urban areas,” Leigh said. “I agree with Burnaby that they need to have a homeowner grant program that responds to the crisis in housing in the Lower Mainland, but I do not agree that northern and rural residents should be financing that.”

Louie said he was disappointed that motion was defeated, and blamed it on poor wording. He said idea was not meant to take money from rural areas, but ensure the homeowners’ grant was fair to homeowners across the province.

“There’s a need to review the program itself to see if it’s reflective of the number of homeowners across the province. Each year it has been eroding as a result of the rising assessments.”

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