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Remedial measures urged as B.C. property assessment jumps loom

A woman walks a dog past houses in east Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The B.C. Assessment Authority sent out letters to 37,000 homeowners in certain areas two weeks ago warning they were likely to see big jumps in property assessments.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The province should look seriously at changing the rules for homeowner grants or a lot of owners in single-family houses in the region will get hammered by taxes because of the current frenzied real estate market, some local politicians say.

The B.C. Assessment Authority sent out letters to 37,000 homeowners in certain areas two weeks ago warning they were likely to see big jumps in property assessments. Sales prices have increased by 25 per cent or 30 per cent in some areas for single-family homes.

Vancouver councillors Raymond Louie and Geoff Meggs both said the current grant rules – in which only owners whose assessments are lower than $1.1-million get the full homeowner tax rebate of $570 – will especially penalize Vancouverites, many of whom don't have the means to pay huge tax increases.

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"I would want the province to review that number or it will be disproportionately saddling the homeowners of Vancouver with taxes. You're burdening long-time residents of Vancouver," Mr. Louie said.

Single-family homeowners are likely to be particularly hard hit in many cities in the region this year, because price increases in that market have far exceeded those for townhouse and condo owners.

Dan Eaton, who owns a modest older house near Port Moody's town centre, is one of them. His assessment is likely going to go from about $630,000 to $800,000, he said. And that will cost him an extra $50 to $80 a month in taxes, he calculates.

While Mr. Eaton, a renewable-energy project developer, said he gets good service for his taxes and he's just relieved he was able to buy a house in 2012, the potential new taxes will take a noticeable chunk away from his budget.

Burnaby City council has already sent a letter to the B.C. Assessment Authority asking for property values to be frozen at last year's levels in order to prevent big tax jumps for that single-family homeowner group.

And District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton, whose council sent a similar letter last year, said he expects a lot of homeowners will be hard hit again. He, too, is hoping for a change in the limit for the homeowner grant, so people don't face the double whammy of higher taxes and lower grants.

Any homeowner whose assessment increases for 2016 by more than the average in the municipality is going to end up seeing a greater increase in taxes than whatever the local council authorized.

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As well, if the new assessment is higher than $1.1-million, the owner will start to lose the provincial $570 homeowner grant (or $770 for seniors). For some homeowners, those two factors could result in as much as $1,000 more in property taxes for 2016.

A spokesperson for the finance ministry said staff aren't able to say how many people might lose grants in the province, since there is a change being contemplated to the homeowner-grant limit for 2016.

The limit in 2013 was almost $1.3-million. Then it got rolled back to $1.1-million for 2014 and remained the same for 2015.

That meant that the proportion of people in B.C. getting the full homeowner grant dropped from 95 per cent in 2013 to 93.8 per cent in 2014 and then 93 per cent in 2015.

The finance ministry didn't have numbers broken out for the Vancouver region, but the proportion of people getting the full grant is likely lower because of the higher number of expensive homes.

Mr. Walton said there's no doubt that the ongoing changes in the region's real-estate market mean that taxes are shifting more onto single-family homeowners.

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"We're very concerned," said Mr. Walton. "You're seeing a shifting of property taxes that isn't fair."

Vancouver's finance department hasn't done any analysis yet on the exact impact of the big assessment hikes or what share of the overall tax load single-family homeowners will now pay in comparison with condo and townhouse owners.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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