Addressing the pinch of property tax hikes for low-income seniors

·4 min read

Grey County council has taken a bold step to add one percent to its budget this year to go toward affordable or rent-geared-to income housing.

Yet there are many who already own houses that have their own struggle with costs. Among them are low-income seniors and those with disabilities.

In 1990, the municipal act allowed, municipalities e to provide property tax relief for them. In 1997, a clause was added to say that they "shall" do so. The Municipal Act of 2001 retainst the clause.

Two decades later, Grey’s property tax relief bylaw for seniors and disabled is still in place, but little used.

LITTLE-USED PROGRAM

While it’s a county bylaw, the notice is posted on lower-tier municipal websites, and applications go to the treasurer of the lower-tier municipalities.

In the Municipality of Grey Highlands, there have been no applications in the current property tax clerk’s tenure.

Staff there told the Herald/Advance that there has been minimal interest from the public. A few requests for more details have been answered, but after receiving the information, nobody has ever pursued it further.

In Southgate Township, there have been few inquiries and no applications in recent years, said treasurer Liam Gott.

While writing this story, the Herald/Advance was told that the county’s treasurer and the municipal treasurers, who meet regularly, have discussed the bylaw recently.

Warden Selwyn Hicks said that county staff will be bringing forward a report next month, which may recommend changes. Then it will be up to Grey County councillors what, if any, changes to make.

Aside from the bylaw being on municipal websites, there has been no recent promotion of the provision. Warden Hicks remarked that he himself had not been aware of the program.

LIEN PLACED ON HOUSE

One reason that the program is not used could be the dollar limit. In Grey, you don’t qualify unless your taxes go up more than $500 in one year. This is a circumstance that all those we spoke to agreed would be unusual.

It’s also a bylaw that is strictly framed to avoid any relief offered to some from ending up shifting cost to other taxpayers.

A lien is placed on the property for the amount deferred. The amount must be repaid on sale of the property. Also, if a person ceases to qualify for two years, then the tax relief ends and the deferred amount must be paid back with interest.

Warden Hicks said that the lien could also explain the lack of applications. “I can see that the average person would prefer not having a lien on their property.”

In Dufferin and Wellington counties, the relief provided under their bylaws is a rebate, which is not re-payable.

Warden Hicks remarked on the relative merits of a rebate, compared with a repayable amount. People may look on any homeowner as being “asset rich and cash poor,” he said. “There’s a wealth that’s there.”

On the other hand, those people who are eligible – either receiving GIS if seniors, or on ODSP – may be quite strained financially, and he observed, could be “forced to make some tough changes about the place they’ll be living.”

“This sort of thing is about keeping them in the house that they have… You want people to have a home and afford their home.”

The Warden mentioned another county program on the other end of the home-buying cycle. The county helps buyers who are renting by loaning five percent of their down payments under certain limits of annual income and selling price. That help is also registered on title, however it is forgiven if the home is owned for 20 years or more. Otherwise it is repaid on sale, along with 10 percent of the capital gains.

Warden Hicks said he looked forward to seeing what the staff would be proposing regarding the Grey County bylaw.

He added that he commended council for its commitment in a related but distinct area - affordable housing (rent-geared-to-income). The council approved adding one percent to the levy to be used for those projects.

Warden Hicks said he wants to keep a laser-focus on the affordable housing question through his tenure as warden.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald