Brandon mayoral candidate Rick Chrest unleashed his opening campaign salvo with a press release on Friday stating taxation will be “a significant issue” on the minds of voters in October.
“This is clearly one issue that concerns every walk of life, every size of home, every size of business,” he said. “There are seniors who are having difficulty staying in their homes and people in houses that were ‘affordable’ to buy but not affordable to operate.”
That perhaps goes without saying.
We don’t disagree with Chrest that taxation should be on people’s minds as they consider what candidates say or promise on the campaign trail. Property taxes — both city and school division — have gone up considerably in the past four years.
But he made one assertion in particular that we feel should be addressed.
He noted that he had been part of the Brandon council that had provided nearly a full city block of land to the previous incarnation of Brandon’s Habitat for Humanity. Since then, the neighbourhood has become quite pleasant with several clean, modest homes now gracing the block.
While acknowledging this fact, Chrest admonished the city for failing to help keep these homes affordable, as he said property taxes on “each one” of the Habitat homes had gone up to more than $3,000.
In that respect, he is quite correct. A quick search of the city’s online tax and assessment map at gis.brandon.ca shows many of the homes on the block pay at least $3,000, if not significantly more than that.
What he failed to mention, however, is that most of these Habitat homes have grown in value considerably. Many of the homes have been assessed a value of between $200,000 and $286,000, and their property taxation levels are not out of line with similarly assessed homes elsewhere in the city.
Those people who become the proud owners of Habitat homes assume all the responsibilities of regular homeowners, including mortgage payments. The idea of sweat equity is fundamental to the Habitat model of homebuilding. These are the hours homeowners dedicate to building their homes and investing in their own comfort and futures.
As the Habitat for Humanity Canada website says, the organization makes affordable housing accessible to low-income families who could not afford to own a home by using volunteer labour and donated materials, using sweat equity, and offering families “an affordable and sustainable no-interest, no down-payment mortgage,” with monthly payments set at 25 per cent of their gross income.
These mortgages are supposed to help families make home ownership affordable.
Certainly we support the city aiding Habitat for Humanity and future homeowners with the donation of land, but by singling out Habitat homes, Chrest seems to be implicitly suggesting that the city should provide these specific homeowners with tax breaks.
That’s a bit of a slippery slope, in our opinion, as there are plenty of other people in this city living on lower incomes who could use some tax relief, too.
Further, as opening salvos go, Chrest’s press release seemed to be more about making a statement than making a promise or exploring a means of addressing high taxation — although he did say he intended to release more on the topic throughout his campaign. Given that the election is still four long months away, there’s plenty of time for candidates, including Chrest, to elaborate on their plans for Brandon.
And in that spirit, we welcome a healthy debate on taxation in this city in the months to come, and suggest all candidates — those running for either council or the mayor’s chains — come to the table prepared with solid options on how to grapple with our growing tax burden.