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St. Catharines supports eliminating taxes for affordable housing

St. Catharines supports eliminating taxes for affordable housing

St. Catharines supports eliminating taxes for affordable housing

St. Catharines supports eliminating taxes for affordable housing

Appeared in The St. Catharines Standard, by Karena Walter 

March 21, 2018

St. Catharines council is backing a plan that would see property taxes currently paid by Niagara Regional Housing go into creating more affordable housing units in the city.

Council voted 8-3 to support the tax exemption by declaring Niagara Regional Housing properties as municipal capital facilities — the only way to exempt properties from regional, municipal and provincial education rates.

“It’s a moral imperative on all of us to recognize the crisis in our backyard and do something about it,” said St. Patrick’s Coun. Mat Siscoe, refuting the idea that affordable housing is someone else’s responsibility.

“It’s very easy to try and wash our hands and say this isn’t us, but it is us. It’s all of us. It’s us, it’s our neighbours, it’s our friends, it’s our families, it’s everybody in this community recognizing people need affordable shelter.”

Niagara Regional Housing owns 1,000 units in the city that paid just over $919,000 in residential and multi-residential property taxes in 2016.

The tax exemption plan — it still has to be approved by the Region — would see the Region provide transitional grants to the city to help make up for the loss in property taxes. The grants would cover 100 per cent of the lost taxes in 2019 and be phased out over four years at 25 per cent a year.

Siscoe, chair of the budget standing committee and mover of the motion, said he didn’t know if eliminating the property taxes was feasible when it was raised by Mayor Walter Sendzik earlier in the term.

But he said the city can absorb the loss in taxes with the plan laid out to receive a grant drawn out over the course of time.

He urged council to reaffirm its support for the reduction and said he was looking to the leadership of the region to move forward with the plan so more affordable housing units can be built in the city.

The city’s director of financial management services, Kristine Douglas said the initiative being considered by the Region to give grants allows the city to plan for the loss in taxes. It would lose about $250,000 a year over time, rather than lose a million dollars in one year.

St. George’s Coun. Mike Britton asked how staff can recommend a $1-million hole in its budget when affordable housing is not in the city’s mandate.

Douglas said the region could declare Niagara Regional Housing properties as municipal capital facilities on its own and the city would be without million in revenue all at one time.

“By us making the recommendation to regional council to consider the city’s position and making the transitional grant, that provides some assistance,” she said. “It’s about balancing the needs of all of our citizens within the city and doing it in a manageable way.”

But St. Andrew’s Coun. Joe Kushner said the city has more than a sufficient amount of responsibilities and in large part it is not meeting many of them.

He said the Region is responsible for housing, assisted by the province and federal government.

“This is a form of downloading and I’m not in favour.”

Sendzik said the public is looking for more affordable housing and the waiting list for seniors is growing every year.

“We have to be a part of the solution,” Sendzik said. “We can’t just keep kicking it to another order of government, say it’s their responsibility. It’s all our responsibilities.”

Sendzik said the issue can be revisited in four years to see if it’s working.