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100,000 more Metro Vancouver homeowners could lose grant unless province ups cutoff limit

Susan Lazaruk, Vancouver Province, Dec 14, 2016

More than 100,000 homeowners in Metro Vancouver stand to lose all or some of their $570 homeowner grant at property tax time because assessed home values are expected to be up to 50 per cent higher in some cities next year.

In the city of Vancouver, for instance, as many as 30,000 homeowners may be pushed past the $1.2-million eligibility threshold, according to calculations done by Postmedia News.

Advocates say land-rich but cash-poor homeowners are being penalized because of Metro Vancouver’s hot real estate market. They are calling for the province to hike the grant threshold.

“You should be able to afford your taxes,” said Lorraine Logan, a senior and president of the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C. The threshold, she said, is a mistake. “It’s a dumb level: ‘Let’s kick them when they’re down,'” she said of low-income homeowners such as seniors.

B.C. Assessment announced last week that single detached houses in Metro Vancouver would be assessed 30 to 50 per cent higher for 2017 taxes than in 2016. Townhouses and condos in Metro, meanwhile, rose in value from between 15 and 30 per cent, it said.

Single detached homes in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, the North Shore and in the Tri-Cities, as well as Squamish, went up the most from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016, the date on which the annual assessments for 2017 taxes are set, according to B.C. Assessments. House prices peaked around July 1.

The benchmark house price for a detached home, according to the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, was $1.511 million in November, down from $1.578 million in July.

Postmedia applied the range of projected assessment increases against 2016 assessed values provided by Landcor Data Corp. to houses, townhouses and condos worth $800,000 to $1.2 million in Metro Vancouver.

The calculations show more than 100,000 homeowners who were eligible for the $570 property tax grant this year may not be eligible for next year’s tax break.

Some remain eligible for a partial grant. For properties assessed above $1.2 million, the grant is reduced by $5 for every $1,000 of assessed value in excess of the threshold, to a maximum of $1.314 million in Metro Vancouver. Some homeowners, including those over 65, are eligible for an additional grant that maxes out at $1.369 million.

The assessment threshold for the grant was raised to $1.2 million earlier this year, up from $1.1 million, after B.C. Assessments advised homeowners of the 2016 increase, which was 15 to 25 per cent in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, the North Shore and in the Tri-Cities.

The province is reviewing the threshold for 2017, but wouldn’t say if it would be raised again.

“We review the homeowner grant program every year in the context of a balanced budget and other spending priorities, and we won’t contribute to speculation about the outcome of that decision,” B.C. Finance Ministry spokesman Jamie Edwardson said in an email.

Low-income homeowners who would have received the homeowner grant except for the high value of their home, including seniors, people with disabilities and veterans, can apply for a low-income grant supplement, according to a provincial website.

When the threshold was made law in 1993 by the NDP government, it was intended to be set so the grant would go 95 per cent of homeowners.

The full homeowner’s grant last year was available to 91 per cent of B.C. homeowners but Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who is also chair of the Metro Vancouver board, has said that percentage dropped to 46 per cent in Metro Vancouver.

UBC Sauder School of Business Prof. Tsur Somerville said the $570 homeowner grant isn’t available to those with “real wealth gains” and it’s fair to set a threshold that’s determined by a homeowner’s wealth.

“If you own a house, especially to someone who doesn’t own a house, you’re wealthy,” he said. “If you gave it to everybody, that’s kind of silly.”

But Colleen McGuinness, chair of the City of Vancouver senior advisory committee, who lives in Dunbar and learned this week her taxes will be going up next year because her 69-year-old house increased in value more than others in Vancouver, is getting a double whammy because she will lose even the partial homeowner grant she received last year.

McGuinness, 69, is self-employed and continues to work, but her income is low, a trait she said she shares with a lot of her elderly neighbours who are on fixed incomes.

She said she defers her property taxes because she couldn’t bear the upheaval and isolation that a move would cause her.

The grant threshold should be raised because “the baseline they’re using is just not relevant to the Lower Mainland,” said McGuinness.