Liberals dubious over Home Owner Grant administration changes

By Shannon Waters March 11, 2021

The NDP government’s plans to take over administration of the annual Home Owner Grant has been making the Opposition Liberals antsy.

If passed, Bill 6, Home Owner Grant Amendment Act, would make the province responsible for administering the annual grant, which provides most B.C. homeowners up to $770 to help offset their annual property tax payment.

During debate on the bill this week, Liberal Finance critic Mike Bernier framed the grant as a lifeline for B.C. homeowners and worried Bill 6 could be a step towards the New Democrats lowering or eliminating it.

“Some [people] make a lot of sacrifices in order to own a home — for some, part of affordability and being able to afford that home is the reliance on the homeowner’s grant,” Bernier said Tuesday.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson assured him the government only intends to centralize the administration of the grant, but noted that its threshold does change every year.

“It gets monitored every year to ensure that over 90 percent [of homeowners] are eligible for the grant,” Robinson said. She committed to keeping it that way.

Currently, primary residences with an assessed value of up to $1.625 million are eligible for the full grant amount. From there, the grant is reduced by $5 for each extra $1,000 of assessed value, capping out at homes worth upwards of $1.739 million (or $1.779 million for rural properties).

Minister says new system will lighten the load on municipalities, reduce fraud
While the province already administers the grant in rural areas, municipalities are responsible for doing the paperwork for eligible properties in their jurisdictions.

Robinson told the chamber the current system is burdensome for local governments and opens up the possibility of homeowners claiming the grant for multiple properties, since municipalities don’t collaborate on grant applications.

Beyond centralizing administration of the grant, Bill 6 will also require applicants to provide their social insurance numbers to prove they are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, a requisite status for the grant.

The new requirement will “help fight tax evasion, reduce fraud and ensure people are paying the right amount of tax,” Robinson said — but the SIN requirement prompted consternation from the Opposition.

“That number’s purpose is not as an identifier for tax evasion or fraud; it’s for benefits and employment through Canada,” said Liberal MLA Tom Shypitka, questioning whether Robinson thought a SIN submission would really be “the magic bullet that’s going to prevent” fraud.

“The short answer to the member is yes,” the minister shot back.

New rules make ‘perfect sense’: economist
In a blog post, economics professor Dr. Lindsay Tedds said the lack of eligibility verification by municipalities has long been a problem and it’s no secret the grant funds — which totalled $829 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year — were going to people who were ineligible.

“That is why moving the application to the province and, poignantly, to the Ministry of Finance, who is responsible for the [property] tax and the grant, is important since that Ministry already has the authority to ask for your SIN number,” she wrote.

Tedds — who has provided the province with expert advice on basic income and the elimination of the medical services plan premium — would be happy to see the grant eliminated altogether, as the Liberals seem to fear the NDP is moving toward.

“The [homeowners’ grant] is bad policy, we can do better, much better, and get better bang for our buck, but man, homeowners like their cookies and politicians are too scared not to bake this one up every year for them,” she wrote.