Many Oak Bay homeowners who once received a provincial homeowner grant are now losing out, as average home prices in the area rise faster than increases in the grant’s threshold, according to the municipality’s mayor.
“We had a number of people whose assessments have gone up beyond the cutoff and are no longer eligible for the homeowner grant,” Mayor Kevin Murdoch said. “A lot of these homes were fairly normal-ish homes that, just because of the inflation of land values, have now lost that grant.”
Oak Bay council unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling for the British Columbia government to consider — among other factors — the average home value within a municipality or region when determining the threshold for the homeowner grant.
According to council’s resolution, the grant threshold has increased by only 3.125 per cent between 2017 and 2019, while the average property value in many areas, including southern Vancouver Island, has jumped 12 to 25 per cent within the same period.
“The example that was shared with me that kind of spurred me to bring this forward was one gentleman who lives in a reasonably modest house has had his taxes go up by over 33 per cent in three years,” Murdoch said. Much of that increase was tied to losing the grant, according to the mayor.
“There’s no changes to his house. Just the assessment change bumped him up.”
The threshold to qualify for the province’s regular homeowner grant is $1.65 million, provided the home is the homeowner’s principal residence. The average home price in Oak Bay is $1.4 million, according to the latest numbers from the B.C. Assessment Authority.
Owners under 65 in the Capital Regional District — and in the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley regional districts — who qualify for the grant receive a $570 reduction in their property tax. An additional grant, which can add $275 to the regular grant, is available to homeowners who are over 65, who qualify under the persons with disabilities category, or who are the surviving spouse of a veteran who received certain war-veteran allowances, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Those whose homes are assessed above the grant threshold but who are in need of relief — such as low-income seniors, certain veterans and persons with disabilities — can apply for a low-income supplement.
Murdoch said he believes the province’s intent with the homeowner grant was to allow the average homeowner to benefit. The Oak Bay homes now missing out on the grant are no longer just mansions, but also two-bedroom bungalows built in the 1960s, he said.
“I do recognize that [council’s resolution] may not gain sympathy from people across the province… but the reality is, in a localized market where nobody controls the costs, you’re stuck within that market, and having your taxes go up by $500 or more a year is actually quite a lot of money to a lot of people,” he said.
The province last raised the threshold in 2018 by $50,000 to ensure 91 per cent of homeowners across B.C. qualified, according to the Ministry of Finance. The grant’s threshold is reviewed annually.
Murdoch and Oak Bay council want to see the province also consider local market conditions when assessing the threshold.
“I’m not suggesting that has to follow lock-step with the assessments,” he said. “It’s just what’s happened is it’s fallen behind to the point where… the average house price is creeping very close to that threshold.”
The resolution, before heading to the province, will first be sent to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities executive, who will determine whether or not the resolution moves to the union’s annual meeting in September, according to Murdoch. If the resolution moves to the annual meeting and is passed by the union members, the province will then be required to give UBCM a formal response, Murdoch said.
—- with files from Travis Paterson