Aaron Hinks photo A row of houses in South Surrey’s Crescent Beach neighbourhood.

B.C. speculation tax slammed as ‘money grab’

MLA Tracy Redies says many Peninsula homeowners unfairly captured by measure

Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies says her office has been fielding a spate of calls and emails from Peninsula homeowners – including Crescent Beach – who feel they are being unfairly penalized by the provincial speculation and vacancy tax.

The tax was introduced by the NDP government last year to address the province’s housing crisis by targeting homes that are left vacant for much of the year. It also focuses on “satellite families” – defined as families that have “a high worldwide income,” who are not eligible to claim a principal residence exemption from the tax.

But Redies, finance critic for the BC Liberals, says she and her caucus colleagues have been fighting the measure – which levies a 0.5 per cent tax on assessed valued for B.C. homeowners and 2 per cent on foreign owners – since it was first announced.

“The tax was poorly-conceived from the get-go,” she told Peace Arch News last week. “There have been multiple amendments to the tax because it was so poorly thought-out.

“We see this as a tax grab,” she added.

“It’s capturing a lot of people who are not speculators at all,” she said. “And satellite families being captured by this tax include Canadians who lived here all their lives, and spouses that lived here all their lives and went to school here.”

Redies said she “would not be surprised if we’ve had around 100 calls and emails” complaining about the tax.

She said that people are also upset that notices being sent to some 1.6 million homeowners in B.C. – who have to file a declaration about their property by March 31 to see whether they’re exempt from the tax – also require them to supply their social insurance numbers.

“There’s no legal requirement to put a SIN on a job application, for instance,” Redies said. “They’re collecting a lot of data about people. It seems like a very heavy-handed approach.”

One of those who has contacted Redies is Coquitlam resident Gordon Wrightman, who owns a vacation cabin in Crescent Beach. While he applied for an exemption for the property, it was turned down, he said.

“It’s a very old cabin,” he told PAN. “We’ve had it in the family for 70 years. We only use it about 10 weeks of the year, between May and the middle of September. We’ve brought three generations of children through there. It’s a good place for family members in the summer, when the kids are at the beach or taking swimming lessons.”

But Wrightman said the home is not suitable for continuous occupation.

“It’s not insulated, it doesn’t have breakers for the electricity. It’s not rentable, but they’re not exempting it. Between municipal taxes and this thing, it’s going to cost me close to $9,000 this year.”

He is adamant that he and his family are not speculators, and that they shouldn’t have to be punished for a legacy handed down to them.

“This is not a speculation tax, it’s a money-grab,” he said, adding he believes that many other properties in the Crescent Beach area are also mainly summer homes.

“We’ve been in B.C. over 100 years,” he said, adding that he feels that there has to be an easier way to target speculators and address the short supply of housing.

“My place is not what they’re after. If it’s sold and torn down, the value of the land might be $2 million. But if somebody pays that, they’re not going to come along and build something affordable. They’re not going to rent to people.”

Redies echoed that statement, adding that she would prefer to see government offering incentives to developers to create affordable housing. Under present conditions with high land costs, increasing taxes and development cost charges, and a very slow process of getting permits, she said, it’s not economic for developers to provide anything but high-end units.

“While we all appreciate that there is a housing crisis and a shortage of supply this is way wrong – it’s going to result in the opposite thing to what is intended,” she said.

“We should be looking at taxes, speeding up permits and getting creative with non-profit organizations.

“The government has no sympathy, whatever – they feel that people are sitting on very valuable properties. This is a tax-grab on hard-working British Columbians who bought their properties and paid their mortgages. This is not really about speculators, this is about taxing people’s accumulated wealth.”

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