Saanich non-profit housing provider faces steep tax bill jump

B.C. Assessment bump in assessed value at Dawson Heights Housing leaves non-profit scrambling

Karen Hope

Karen Hope

A Saanich non-profit seniors housing provider is preparing to raise rents after an unexpected hike in property assessment value last month.

Dawson Heights Housing, at the junction of Cedar Hill and Cedar Hill Cross roads, runs a trio of non-profit housing complexes primarily for seniors. Two of those properties, The Cedars (57 residents) and The Dawson (52 residents), saw their values jump by 22 and 11 per cent respectively. A third building is protected by a grandfathered tax-exemption.

“We’re a sustainable non-profit that exists off of rents and fees,” said executive director Karen Hope, who has appealed the valuations with B.C. Assessment.

“(Dawson Heights) doesn’t rely on government subsidies, because they’re not reliable in the long term,” she said. “It means a spike in rent.”

The District of Saanich allows most charities – but not non-profit housing providers – to apply for property tax exemptions for three- or four-year periods. Saanich follows a community charter ruling that non-profit housing is not eligible for property tax exemption unless it provides accommodation for people with physical, mental or developmental disabilities. The Victoria Cool Aid Society has had multiple requests for tax exemption refused by Saanich in the past three years.

Knowing Cool Aid’s rejection history for tax-exemption status, Dawson Heights hasn’t applied, Hope said. And while B.C. Assessment is doing what it’s mandated to do (using neighbouring market indicators when assessing property values), Hope has filed an appeal with the Crown corporation. She’s since found out that a great number of non-profit housing organizations have launched appeals in 2014 and 2015 in an attempt to reduce costs.

It’s come to the attention of B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, who are monitoring the situation.

“What we see is that most non-profit (housing) costs are rising, operating housing is expensive to begin with, and we want a mandate to keep costs low but not based on tax,” said Jill Atkey, director of research and education with the Vancouver-based organization.

“We understand that the only revenue source for cities is tax. They’re in a difficult position,” Atkey said.

The idea that non-profit housing associations could benefit from a lower tax rate has been bandied about before. However, it could take provincial legislation to overrule the community charter-based municipal bylaws to allow non-profit housing providers a tax break or exemption.

Dawson Heights property tax for the two eligible buildings was a combined $75,000 in 2014, which broke down to $880 per year for a one-bedroom in The Dawson.

“Imagine if we didn’t have to pay that,” Hope said.

Tina Ireland, B.C. Assessment’s director of evaluation services, said B.C. Assessment is not currently considering interpreting the legislation differently for non-profit housing, meaning it will continue to be classified as residential.

Which makes it an issue that needs attention, said Hope, who is preparing to deliver 75 letters from residents to Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming.

“With a push in the building of affordable housing projects, there’s certainly a need to retain those units for people with fixed incomes,” said Fleming, who plans to address the issue with the minister responsible for housing, Rich Coleman. “We don’t want rent increases being caused by assessments that aren’t looking at the specifics of below-market affordable housing.”

reporter@saanichnews.com