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November 12, 2020 – Taxes and charges on new and existing homes are a key driver of the cost and supply of affordable homes for Canadians, says a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “Gimme Shelter: How High Municipal Housing Charges and Taxes Decrease Housing Supply,” author Benjamin Dachis points to development charges, land transfer taxes, and murky density bonus payments as partial drivers of reduced supply and soaring house prices for would-be buyers.

Over the past decade, housing costs have increased dramatically in Canada’s major cities and there is a persistent gap between the cost of building new homes and their market price. The report reveals Vancouver’s housing costs are by far the highest above the cost of construction in Canada, resulting in an extra cost of $644,000 for the average new house. In other major cities – Abbotsford, Victoria, Kelowna, Regina, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa-Gatineau – homebuyers paid an average $230,000 extra on a new house because of limits on supply.

Dachis calls on cities and provinces to change their taxes and charges on housing to lower the cost of new housing and increase supply. He proposes four key reforms.

Firstly, change development charges for water and wastewater from upfront payments for infrastructure to a direct user-pay system. This will limit upfront charges on housing construction being passed on to buyers through higher purchase prices. Removing water and wastewater charges would reduce single-detached home prices by tens of thousands of dollars in the Greater Toronto Area and could also spur large price reductions in BC cities.

Secondly, BC should reform density bonus payments in the same way Ontario recently did. Typically, these transactions involve a municipality giving a developer bonus density beyond what is permitted by zoning laws in exchange for money or community amenities. These kinds of payments should be more predictable and be less of a disincentive for growth.

Thirdly, eliminate or reduce land transfer taxes. Land transfer taxes make up a significant portion of the expense of moving into a new home. These taxes reduce the buying power of homebuyers, resulting in a lower number of sales. Fewer transactions in the housing market reduces housing supply and affordability.

Lastly, cities should rely on property taxes from housing for financing municipal government services, such as parks or fire services, and target tax reductions to all residents in need. Governments should replace reductions or deferrals of property taxes with income-tested supports that all residents can receive, whether homeowners or renters, and can use toward their housing costs.

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For more information contact: Benjamin Dachis, Director of Public Affairs, C.D. Howe Institute; or Nancy Schlömer, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute, email: nschlomer@cdhowe.org.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.