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stephen quinn

This weekend, as you attend your place of worship, be it a church, a mosque, temple or synagogue, beach volleyball court, hot yoga studio or farmers market, please spare a prayer for the owners of single-family homes of Metro Vancouver.

Through no fault of their own, their property values have increased exponentially over the past decade. Those who once purchased houses for relatively modest sums are finding themselves now living in houses valued into the millions. Consequently, their property-tax bills have increased to reflect their higher assessments, and they need our help.

Some, sadly, will no longer even qualify for the homeowner grant because the value of their houses has surpassed the threshold of $1.2-million. The chances of that are pretty good, given that the regional benchmark price for a single-family house topped $1.4-million last month.

Only those over the age of 55 will be allowed to defer their taxes at a rate of interest so low that they actually make money by not paying tax and investing their cash elsewhere. Come on, everybody does it. But spare a thought for them as well.

Some may have to turn to their parents, who may be part of the richest cohort of seniors in Canadian history, for help, or hope that their share of the $750-billion in inheritance money that the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce predicts will be handed down over the next decade comes their way soon.

Yes, the owners of single-family houses in Metro Vancouver, who disproportionately suck up municipal services, who encourage sprawl and who are essentially subsidized by condo dwellers and other people who live in smaller, more ecologically responsible homes, are under attack.

Luckily, North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto is looking out for them.

Mr. Mussatto said this week that he would like the province to look into separating single-family houses from condominiums and multiple-unit dwellings so owners of single-family houses could be charged a lower tax rate.

The mayor argues that while the value of single-family houses has skyrocketed in recent years, the value of condos has remained relatively stable. "If you're a condo owner, your taxes may indeed be going down this year, because condos didn't go up much or they didn't go up at all compared to single-family homes," he told me in an interview. "The bottom line is that there are some people who are getting hurt pretty significantly and I want to make sure that we're fair with the tax system so everybody pays their fair share."

I failed to ask Mr. Mussatto how he defines fair.

Planning and development consultant Michael Geller agrees with splitting single-family houses off from multiple-unit buildings for the purpose of calculating taxes, but he said it's the condo and townhouse dwellers who should be getting the break.

"Part of municipal taxes go to maintaining the roads and sewers and sidewalks, and single-family homes consume far more in services than high-density apartment living," he told me. "It should be the single-family homeowners who are paying the higher mill rate. We should be rewarding people for living more a more compact lifestyle."

Perhaps surprisingly Mayor Mussatto agrees – to a point. "People who live with a smaller footprint should get some benefit from that, but there are a large number of people out there who are facing very significant tax increases so I'm saying let's apply some fairness to this situation," he said.

There's that word again, sans definition.

For its part, the province says municipal governments already have the tools they need to keep property taxes at a manageable level.

We also know that the province is reluctant to do anything that would cut in to the equity of homeowners. The Premier said as much in a statement a few months ago about curbing foreign investment in the region's real estate market.

So how about this: Allow the owners of single-family houses to pay whatever they like in property tax. Then, when it comes time for them to sell their houses, they must sell it for a price that corresponds to the tax rate they've been paying. Sure, it may be a $3-million house, but you've been paying taxes on a home valued at only $1.2-million – so that's what you get.

Is that crazy? Of course, it is.

But this is Crazyland.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.