Council voted to refuse a request for tax exemptions and discounts on building charges Monday night, to the dismay of a local seniors’ housing group.
The finance department recommended against providing a donation or grant to the Mission Association for Seniors Housing (MASH) to partially offset development cost charges (DCCs) on its life lease housing project just south of Cherry Avenue on Cedar Street.
It also recommended the municipality not provide an ongoing tax exemption for that project and that staff develop future policy to guide council in matters of affordable or low-income housing in the future.
Those recommendations passed with a motion from Coun. Larry Nundal that staff review all current properties which currently receive a permissive tax exemption from the district.
Director of Finance Ken Bjorgaard said the recommendations were made because Mission’s tax exemption to the hybrid rental-ownership model is unique.
“There are no ongoing life lease properties in the province that provide permissive tax exemptions and most of them have not provided any relief on any other fees on life lease projects,” he said.
Under DCC legislation any waivers on properties are intended to be for purely rental agreements, which life-leases clearly are not, he said.
Bjorgaard said the issue was complex, since housing can be provided to seniors in both non-profit and for-profit models, making the concept of affordable housing subjective.
“From a fairness perspective, is it fair to provide tax relief to low-income seniors and not to other low-income individuals,” he said.
Bjorgaard also noted the property tax system already provides tax relief, since lower valued housing is assessed for lower taxes.
“I think there’s a big difference between tax exemptions for non-profits like churches and other things, and for-profit for this kind of thing,” said Coun. Dave Hensman. “This seems to me not non-profit by the fact of how much money is required to buy this place.”
The 42-unit Cedar Valley Manor will offer one-bedroom apartments starting from $169,900, and two-bedroom apartments starting from $199,000, which MASH president Judith Ray said can usually be purchased with the equity most seniors have in their existing homes.
Life-lease housing allows seniors to buy their units and the leasehold interest is registered on the title, while MASH retains ownership of the building like a strata corporation. At the end of the lease, the owner retains 95 per cent of the equity on the unit.
During question period MASH president Judith Ray requested that the district involve and consult with them in creating a future policy for affordable or low-income housing.
She said some of the existing housing spaces for seniors mentioned in the report either do not exist anymore or are old and will soon need to be replaced.
“If those things are fading in their usefulness, what along the way will replace it and how can we collectively do that as a community?”