Using a backdrop of new construction in Victoria

BC VIEWS: Real estate tax increases windfall

Finance Minister Mike de Jong found an extra half billion from property transfer tax last year, with much more to come

The lights came back on in the B.C. legislature last week to reveal the government’s sudden decision to impose a 15 per cent tax on foreign property purchases in Metro Vancouver.

This came after months of government refusal to intervene in a heated urban market in ways that might devalue properties for people whose homes represent a large chunk of their life savings.

It remains to be seen whether this large wrench applied to the problem will cool the market, or trigger declining property values as similar efforts have done in other major cities. The extent of the ripple effect on B.C. communities outside Metro Vancouver is also something that will be closely watched.

Premier Christy Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced the tax with a week’s notice, leaving realtors and developers scrambling to close deals before thousands more in property transfer tax was imposed on foreign buyers.

This dramatic intervention was based on less than five weeks of information on the nationality of buyers. Early results showed foreign buyers represented five per cent of Metro Vancouver real estate sales. Another two weeks of data showed a spike to nearly 10 per cent, and suddenly the big wrench came out.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman acknowledged that the surprise tax left the real estate industry “taken aback and a bit grumpy.” They worried foreign buyers might back out of deals after sellers have bought another home. They also fear that the tax might pop the real estate bubble, causing a rapid reversal of the long sellers’ market that has taken on a life and a psychology of its own.

One thing is certain. The province’s windfall from the property transfer tax can only grow even further as foreign buyers pay up.

The size of this windfall was shown in the government’s audited public accounts for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which de Jong released just days before announcing the new real estate tax.

The property transfer tax has been a cash cow for the province since Bill Vander Zalm introduced it in the 1980s, and by 2015-16 it had reached about $1.5 billion. For comparison purposes, that’s almost twice as much as total provincial revenue from the forest industry.

The current B.C. budget had forecast that property transfer tax revenues would decline this year and next year. The public accounts showed that for 2015-16, the government took in $468 million more than expected, meaning real estate accounted for most of the provincial surplus.

How much more is raked in by the new transfer tax on foreign buyers remains to be seen, but it will be substantial. And Coleman allows that he has been developing “a really cool plan” to use that money to improve the housing situation for lower-income people.

A couple of weeks ago I described the clamour of urban protesters demanding that governments build thousands of units of social housing. Coleman has long rejected the idea of social housing projects that create clusters of poverty, and he assured me last week that isn’t going to change.

B.C. has 20,000 low-income households getting a rent subsidy today, and Coleman suggested that will be increasing. He’ll be announcing new measures in September to stimulate construction of new rental housing.

It remains to be seen how that will work as well. But it gives the B.C. government lots more money to spend in an election year.

This is the latest of a string of Clark’s election-year fixes. I’ll look at some others in a future column.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Surrey’s advance polling numbers doubled

This year 22,185 advance ballots were cast compared to 11,747 in the 2014 civic election

Surrey man injured in Vancouver Island racetrack accident meets, holds son for first time

Kayden was born the day after Jonathan was crushed by car at speedway

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

Rugby jerseys to be worn, washed and auctioned in Surrey following special day of games

Beavers’ annual Ruck for The Cure fundraiser for cancer society held at Sullivan Heights Park

South Surrey pair join ‘Operation Rainbow’ on medical trip to India

Gary Hanney, Mandy Hadikin among group aiming to help youth in need

Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

About five people lined up early for the opening of the BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops.

Jagmeet Singh says marijuana pardons are not enough

Trudeau government will streamline pardon process for Canadians convicted of simple possession of marijuana in the past

BC Ferries begins taking debit in two-month pilot project

Company is giving customers option to use Interac on two-month trial on select vessels

Caregivers banned from smoking, growing cannabis around children-in-care: MCFD

Ministry has limited cannabis use for caregivers, stating it may “pose a risk to children and youth.”

Cheaper strains sell out within minutes on online BC Cannabis Store

Province says new strains will become available in the coming months

Only 40% of B.C. car dealerships have electric cars available: report

Researchers found buyers frustrated at the lack of options

VIDEO: Millionaire Lottery returns to give back and win big

Since 1996, Millionaire Lottery has raised $52 million for the VGH+UBC Hospital Foundation

Test case challenges a politician’s right to block people from Twitter account

3 people say Watson infringed their constitutional right to freedom of expression by blocking them

Most Read