By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A contingent of real estate sellers from across the region were in the council chambers to fight a possible endorsement by councillors of a land transfer tax (LTT) for municipalities.
Currently, a LTT allows the province to collect tax on every home sold in Ontario. There is also a similar tax in Toronto. As part of an ongoing review that will result in an update to the Municipal Act, the City of Toronto Act and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, consideration is being made to allow municipalities to implement a LTT of their own.
Before councillors was the possible acceptance of such a possibility in the form of comments from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), which had submitted their agreement to municipalities having a “broader taxing authority” to the province, which could be used to collect additional revenue for local infrastructure.
Realtors argue that such a tax would be a disaster for the city.
Roger Bouma, a former city councillor and president-elect for the Durham Region Association of Realtors, says such a new tax would drive prospective new Oshawa residents, and even current residents, away from the city.
“Housing is a huge part of our local economy,” he said. “It allows our singles and young families to stay in Oshawa and buy their first home…and new residents from Toronto to move to our great city so they can have a front yard and a backyard instead of a balcony or a window. Make no mistake, one of the reasons they come this way is because of our relative affordability…municipal land transfer tax threatens this affordability.”
Bouma says the tax is an unreliable source of revenue for municipalities as it depends on a healthy housing market. Oshawa’s and Durham’s market has been in good shape for the last few years, he says, but that’s not going to last.
Bouma’s comments were echoed by Anita DeVries, the executive officer of the Durham Region Homebuilders Association.
DeVries says home ownership for those under the age of 35 has plummeted in recent years and more fees would only drive that number down further.
“Our paramount concern is with housing affordability in general and we can not support in good faith additional government fees and taxes,” she said.
It was also argued that council couldn’t go forward with the endorsement as the staff report was made public less than 24 hours before the meeting. However, the deadline for submissions to the province was Oct. 31, two days after the meeting.
“You can’t possibly accept a recommendation today based on a 108-page report that was first made available to the public yesterday,” Bouma said. “Your residents, your business community, your realtors and your home builders deserve more time to respond.”
Councillor Nancy Diamond agreed.
“This report has had up to 24 hours consideration, perhaps less, by many,” she said, adding the issue was far too important for such a small time frame.
However, a motion to receive the report for information was met with animosity from Councillor Amy England, who argued a blanket motion ignored other key parts of the report which could be endorsed.
Along with possible endorsement of an LTT, the report also recommended approving AMO’s recommendations to the province on other facets of the legislative review, including fine-tuning the definition of “meeting.”
The word has different definitions under the different acts and can be confusing to not only residents, but councillors as well, and can impact certain committees, such as the accessibility advisory committees when certain members need to find other ways (like video or teleconferencing) to attend meetings.
“I’m disappointed that the accessibility portion was not dealt with,” England said. “I’m glad that we were able to make at least a small contribution, but at the end of the day this has been on the agenda for months, so although it wasn’t technically in front of council, it should have been in front of councillors for the last couple months.”
Certainly for Oshawa’s regional councillors, England says, as the Region of Durham sent in comments earlier this month as part of the review.
In that motion, moved by Diamond on Oct. 22, a portion deals with providing a clearer definition of meeting.
The review of municipal legislation being undertaken by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing was initiated on June 5. With the deadline now passed, the ministry will be looking to formulate its own recommendations that will be passed on to the provincial government.