Almost 3K in Burnaby affected by homeowner grant change

Burnaby Coun. Paul McDonell -
Burnaby Coun. Paul McDonell
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Almost 3,000 Burnaby residents will see their homeowner grants cut or eliminated altogether.

This comes after the provincial government lowered the threshold to qualify for the full homeowner grant from $1.295 million in 2013 to $1.1 million this year.

The full basic grant of $570 will reduce the property taxes of homes assessed at $1.1 million or less. The grant is cut by $5 for every $1,000 over that figure.

Properties assessed at $1.214 million or more will receive no grant at all. That's far less than in 2013, when the grant was eliminated after assessments reached $1.409 million.

The grant only applies to principle residences. In Burnaby, the average assessment of residential properties is $669,435, says city finance director Denise Jorgenson in a report.

But while 92 per cent of eligible homeowners in the city could claim the full grant amount last year, in 2014 that's dropped to 88 per cent.

This year, 2,962 residential properties in Burnaby will not qualify for any of the basic grant.

For people who meet certain criteria—they're over 65 years old, receive a disability allowance,  permanently disabled or are veterans—that will also mean a loss of the additional $275-grant.

The provincial finance ministry reduced the grant threshold to save $11 million, ministry spokesman Jamie Edwardson told Black Press last month.

He said the change reduces or eliminates the grant for 18,000 property owners provincewide, or about 1.5 per cent of the ones previously eligible.

Just over 93 per cent of B.C. home owners now qualify for the grant, down from about 95 per cent last year.

Assessed property values decreased in many parts of the Lower Mainland over the past year, although not by anywhere near as much as the 15 per cent cut in the threshold for the home owner grant.

Edwardson said the reduced threshold "means we are able to direct approximately $11 million to other priority programs."

He noted the province has low-interest loan programs that allow many home owners–including those over 55, people with disabilities and families with children–to defer some or all of their property taxes until they sell their home or it becomes part of an estate.

Burnaby city manager Bob Moncur told council last week the province's decision "came as a bit of a surprise."

Coun. Paul McDonell was blunt in his assessment. "To me it's just another stealth tax."

Mayor Derek Corrigan noted that with property values significantly higher in the Lower Mainland, the change in the grant threshold will have little effect on homeowners in the rest of British Columbia.

And with school taxes included in that tax bill, the result is Lower Mainland homeowners will be subsidizing education in the rest of the province, he said.

"It seems to me it's patently unfair that we don't have an even distribution of that benefit."

It's also a reminder, Corrigan said, that property taxation is a "regressive tax" that hits people's finances the same whether they're wealthy or a pensioner on limited income.

~ with files by Jeff Nagel

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