Monday, July 24, 2017

A Taxing Time

(An earlier version of this story appeared in the Sherman Hub News and North End Breezes.)

I’ll receive my municipal tax bill in the mail this week.

Just about everyone has an opinion on taxes, right?

Take President Donald Trump. On paying taxes Donald apparently doesn’t.  “That makes me smart," he said during a debate last year.

Others have funny ideas about tax avoidance.  “Dear IRS, I am writing to cancel my subscription. Please remove my name from your mailing list.” (Snoopy - aka Charles Schulz)

I’m partial to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s adage:

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” 

In that context, most of us look for fairness in our tax systems.  What exactly “fairness” is remains subject to debate.  Indicators, though, should include simplicity, ability to pay and transparency.

That said, multi-residential property taxation in Hamilton fails the fairness test.

Today, there is a greater awareness by tenants that they pay taxes through their rent.   Ten years ago, the Clinic and community partners reached out through the I am a Tenant and I Vote Campaign to bring this reality to public attention.

At the time, tenant advocate Tom Cooper noted that many tenants were unaware that they were, in fact, paying much higher taxes than those in single family homes.

Writing in Raise the Hammer (https://raisethehammer.org/article/577/tenants_and_taxes), Cooper used real property to property comparisons.

Tenant tax rates were, in some cases, “three times higher than the 'residential property tax rate' their neighbors in the bungalow down the street are levied,” maintained Cooper.

More recently, Don McLean, co-founder and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), told a tenant’s conference that the tax rate on multi-residential units in Hamilton continued to be set at 2.74 times the rate on single-family homes.

“Tenants are effectively paying 20% of their rent in the form of municipal taxes,” said McLean in March 2016.

It is a fact that Hamilton is the one of the leaders in the dubious category of taxing tenants unfairly. While cities like Toronto have set out to address the disparity, Hamilton has turned a blind eye.

Finally, the province has taken note of this injustice and last year announced a review of the property taxation of multi‐residential apartment buildings. In April, they told municipalities that property taxes for new multi-residential apartment buildings must be charged at a similar rate as other residential properties.  It is thought that this will encourage developers to build more new purpose-built rental housing.  This is a good thing.

Meanwhile, some municipalities like Hamilton have had a freeze put on any increases in the property tax burden for multi-residential apartment buildings. The freeze is in place while the issue is studied.

Let’s see what happens.  Tenants have been waiting a long time for fairness. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Privatization and Long Term Care Concerns in Ontario

Recently I covered a community meeting in Port Rowan. The subject was hydro privatization and there was a good turnout for a nice summer evening.


Former New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese was in excellent form in making the case to buy hydro back.  You can hear a portion of his remarks at https://soundcloud.com/user227575210/z0000032

 More Privatization

As the story mentions the meeting was sponsored by the We Own It campaign and  the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

After the meeting I had the opportunity to talk with Jeremy Thibodeau, 1st Vice-President Local 230: of OPSEU and asked him to elaborate on the situation In Grey County that he had referenced during his remarks.

Grey County was about to decide on selling off one of its Long Term Care Facilities to private interests.
Thibodeau and Marchese show what is happening to hydro prices.

Thibodeau told me that a vote was coming soon.  In fact, the vote had been scheduled for earlier in the spring and Councillors who were opposed walked out of the meeting to deny a quorum and buy time to develop other strategies to stop the sell off

Unfortunately,  the delay was only a temporary one. On June 29th the issue came to a vote.

This is complicated stuff and what follows is only a brief summary of the latest events.

Where is Long Term Care Headed in Grey County 

Grey County has three long term care facilities.  Grey Gables in Markdale, Lee Manor in Owen Sound and Rockwood Terrace in Durham.

Rockwood Terrace needs considerable work to bring it up to Ministry standards.

After a lengthy consultation process, staff came back with recommendations that were largely accepted by Council.  At that June 29th meeting, Council gave final approval to build a new 166 bed Long Term Care Facility in Durham to replace Rockwood Terrace.

Council also set the wheels in motion to sell Grey Gables to a private operator “based on an approved project plan for a new home, staff prepare a detailed project plan to support the sale of Grey Gables in Markdale as a retirement/assisted living facility and that this conversion happen in alignment with the completion of construction of the new long term care home.”

Additionally, staff are being asked to prepare Request for Proposals to obtain services of a management company which will input into how the new LTC Care Home will operate in Durham. This same company would administer the day to day operation of the current homes and the new facility.


My sense is that this kind of debate must be ripping Grey County apart.  Sure, there are lots of complexities to the issue but Ontario’s cities, towns and villages will continue to feel these kind of pressures as senior levels of government carry on implementing their austerity agendas.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

No Real Change to Payday Loan Lending Rates in the New Year

(This story originally appeared at www.hamiltonjustice.ca)

Maybe you missed this announcement in December from the Ontario government? 

"Our government is committed to protecting consumers and helping people in their everyday lives. This includes lowering the cost for taking out a payday loan, and further changes to ensure that financial services are fairer and more transparent for all. " — Marie-France Lalonde, Minister of Government and Consumer Services

This is how the Minister characterizes lowering the maximum total cost of borrowing for a payday loan from $21 to $18 per $100 borrowed.  That new protection will happen on of January 1, 2017.  This move, after years of dilly dallying, lowers the interest rate that predatory lenders can charge from 546% to 390% per annum.  The Criminal Code says charging anything above 60% is a crime. But Ontario and most other provinces believe an exemption is in order for this so-called industry. (We’ve written before on this.  See http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog?post=Province+Getting+it+Wrong+on+Payday+Loans&id=369)

Legislating the Banks

Prior to the Ontario announcement, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives put out a report developed through a survey of ACORN Canada members who have accessed payday loans.

In A Survey of High Interest Alternative Financial Services, author Joe Fantauzzi concludes that banks “through denying low and moderate income families access to credit, are driving people to access fringe high interest products like payday loans, installment loans and more.”

So, the federal government should insist that banks be more responsive to low and middle-income families.  The report suggests that access to low interest credit for emergencies and low interest overdraft protection be legislated.  Lowering NSF fees from $45 to $10 and ensuring no-holds on cheques would be positive changes.  Alternatives to predatory lenders like a postal bank and credit union products geared to moderate and low income households are also called for.  Here is the report.
https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/predatory-lending

Together with the payday loan industry the Ontario government has become a partner in predation. 

Perhaps the federal government can change this.  The CCPA’s report shows how.