Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Opinion: Faced with new taxes, more B.C. seniors are deferring their property taxes Vancouver Courier January 14, 2019


     Two weeks ago, I wrote about the increased taxes many Vancouver residents will be paying as a result of the latest BC Assessments and new provincial taxes. These include the so-called School Tax and so-called Speculation Tax, recently renamed the Speculation and Vacancy Tax even though it will apply to second homes occupied up to 182 days a year.
     In the article, I informed Courier readers about section 19(8) of the BC Assessment Act, which allows a property to be assessed at less than market value if it has been a principal residence for at least 10 years and assessed at a higher value because of its redevelopment potential for townhouses or apartments. I invited readers to email me for further details.
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     I subsequently heard from many of you.
     Some questioned whether the recent Vancouver policy allowing duplexes in single family zones would allow an appeal under section 19(8). It will not.
     Others thought the School Tax was particularly unfair since it will not be used to fund schools, and unlike good taxes, is not proportionate to one’s ability to pay.
     A few worried how the city could operate if it didn’t receive property taxes.The city will continue to receive money to operate, but it will come from the province, not the taxpayer.
     Many readers, worried about paying their increased tax bill, were disappointed to learn their properties would not qualify for a reduced assessment under section 19(8).
     I suggested that they consider deferring their taxes under the provincial program. While some agreed it is probably time to start doing so, others did not like the thought of a government lien against their property, having worked so hard to pay off their mortgage.
     I noted that while the program’s interest rate has increased, it is only 1.45 per cent for those 55 and over and 3.45 per cent for the Families with Children and Financial Hardship Programs.
Fortunately, no one asked me to explain why lower-income households with children or those suffering financial hardship must pay a higher interest rate than wealthy seniors who take advantage of the deferment program since it is not means tested.
     According to a recent report by seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie, the number of seniors in B.C. who deferred their property taxes in 2017-18 grew by 53 per cent over four years. The total amount of property tax deferred last year was $208.8 million.
     Like me, Ms. Mackenzie believes the tax deferment program can be a good, cost-effective program for lower-income seniors struggling to pay their taxes, who could use the additional money to hire more help around the house.
      There are, however, some negatives associated with the tax deferment program. For one thing, should a homeowner want to take out a reverse mortgage or home-equity loan, they will likely have to pay the outstanding taxes at that time. Also, this program does not apply to those living on leased land.
     As the additional School Tax on homes over $3 million kicks in, expect more seniors to start deferring their taxes. Indeed, several people told me that while they hadn’t deferred their taxes in the past, they will now because of this much-hated tax.
     It is somewhat ironic that the School Tax was brought in to generate additional revenues for the province. However, the province may now need to borrow more money to give to the municipalities since more seniors will defer their property taxes.
     Before leaving the topic of property taxes, I must again question why the province has not reconsidered its Homeowner Grant Program. It offers grants of $570 or $700 to B.C. residents, regardless of their income, if their home is assessed at $1,650,000 or less, anywhere in the province. Properties assessed over that amount may receive a partial grant.
     In most B.C. locales, $1,650,000 will buy you one of the nicest properties in town. Why is the province giving a grant to these homeowners? Or any high-income homeowners for that matter? Why not provide more grants to low-income renters instead?
     By the time you read this, I will be on my way to China from where I’ll be writing my next column. It will not be about property taxes.
@michaelgeller
geller@sfu.ca
 

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