B.C. government reviews homeowner grants amid rising property assessments

Photo by The Canadian Press.

Homeowners across parts of southern British Columbia have received big increases in the assessed value of their homes, prompting the government to review who qualifies for a grant that helps reduce property taxes.

Property assessments from 2016 were posted online Tuesday by BC Assessment, which announced last month that homeowners can expect values for single family homes in much of B.C.'s Lower Mainland and the Victoria area on Vancouver Island to jump between 30 and 50 per cent from last year.

The grant program offers $570 to homeowners of properties with an assessed value of less than $1.2 million. The Finance Ministry said the grant covers 91 per cent or more than one million homes in the province.

"We are actively looking at the threshold level and considering the effect of rising assessments on the homeowner grant," the ministry said in a statement.

The province increased the threshold by $100,000 to $1.2 million last year because of soaring real estate prices.

The B.C. government said no other jurisdiction in Canada offers the same type of assistance as its homeowner grant, but Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and New Brunswick offer income tested tax credits.

BC Assessment is the agency that collects, monitors and analyses property data. The assessments are based on the estimate of a property's market value as of July 1 and its physical condition as of Oct. 31.

Jason Grant, a spokesman for the agency, said assessment increases are spread almost uniformly across much of the Lower Mainland from Squamish to Chilliwack, and in the Victoria area.

The data shows the assessment on a single-family home on Vancouver's west side increased 41 per cent to $2.74 million from $1.94 million in July 2015. A similar home on Vancouver's east side increased 41 per cent to $1.33 million from $947,300 in 2015.

"There are large increases being reported for most of the Lower Mainland, but it's very important to remember these large increases do not automatically translate into a corresponding increase in property taxes," said Grant.

"Don't be too panicked when you see the big number."

Prof. Tsur Somerville of the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business said he felt a jolt of sticker shock when he looked at his own property assessment.

"I know how much house prices went up and then I looked at my assessment this morning, and damn, that's a big number," he said.

Somerville said he doesn't have much sympathy for homeowners concerned about losing their grant because the increased value of their property puts them above the threshold.

"If you are a renter or a poor person, to have someone who has just gained $400,000 in wealth complaining about spending another $600 a year, that doesn't really carry a lot of water," he said.

B.C.'s advocate for seniors has said many elderly people on fixed incomes are struggling to stay in their homes because they can't afford property taxes.

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