Soaring property assessments for single-family homes in much of Greater Vancouver have prompted the B.C. government to increase the threshold of tax relief to homeowners to cover houses valued at $1.2-million or under.
The previous threshold of $1.1-million was hiked Tuesday after news that the assessed values for single-family detached properties in the area jumped by at least 15 per cent over a one-year period. B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong hinted in an interview that more changes to address affordability could come in next month's provincial budget. He said the government has been looking at changes to the province's property transfer tax.
"The result of this work will reveal itself next month," he said, referring to the release of the provincial budget. He declined to be more specific, but said the notion of adjusting thresholds for the tax is one option. "It is something we are actively considering."
The hike in the homeowner grant threshold on Tuesday means that 91 per cent of B.C. properties qualify for the 59-year-old program that, last year, returned $800-million to B.C. property owners. The grant can reduce property taxes by up to $570 annually.
"It is not an insignificant amount of money," Mr. de Jong said. "It's a recognition of the costs they face, an offset to the property taxes they pay."
Mr. de Jong said he did not have specific numbers available on how many property owners would be affected by this week's measures, but noted that about 499,000 Metro Vancouver residents were eligible for the basic grant in 2014 – the last year for which he had figures available.
There are other related grants for homeowners aged 65 and over, the disabled or those eligible for certain war-veterans allowances.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson seized on news of the BC Assessment numbers to call again for a provincial effort to build affordable housing, which could be funded through a speculation tax and luxury housing tax. He also called for better tracking of data on international investment and absentee ownership by the provincial and federal governments.
"Vancouver must remain a city that people of all ages can afford to call home, and it's time for strong government action to protect that," Mr. Robertson said in a statement issued Tuesday that did not directly address the grant announcement.
Mr. de Jong said there was nothing new in the mayor's comments, though he thought affordability issues were generally a "very legitimate concern." The Finance Minister said the government was averse to taking measures that would affect the value of homes of B.C. property owners.
David Eby, the NDP opposition housing critic, said a threshold increase of 9 per cent fails to keep up with rising housing values. "It's an invisible policy change to the people most vulnerable to losing this grant," he said in an interview.
Ed Sadowski of New Westminster, who has lived in a 1910-style Craftsman-style house for 21 years, said his assessment went from about $1-million to just less than $1.2-million. Mr. Sadowski, a consultant, said he had not been really worried about the issue because he and his wife, an educational administrator, are mortgage-free and have income coming in.
"The chattering classes like to look at their real estate and housing assessments – and these are people who have houses – and pat themselves on the back and say, 'Look how wealthy I am on these houses,'" he said.
But he said the numbers are all relative, with little or no meaning beyond one key issue. "What it does mean to me, and it's very much a concern to my wife and me, is what does this mean for our children. These skyrocketing assessments and house values just mean our children are less likely to live anywhere near us – or more likely to live in something smaller."
Mr. Sadowski, who has two grown children, said in his view there is little government can do to build affordable single-family housing in the limited Vancouver-region land space. "We can huff and puff all we want," he said, "but the government is not going to be able to produce those."