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A letter on Rental Apartment Tenant Property Taxes I sent to the Mayor of Toronto and all Toronto City Councillors

From bw201@freenet.toronto.on.ca Tue Feb 13 00:47:58 2001
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2001 12:42:05 -0500 (EST)
From: Bob Levitt
To: mayor_lastman@city.toronto.on.ca
Subject: Attack against tenants by John Sewell's Committee For Fair City Taxation

John Sewell and his views, but what about tenants?

Former City of Toronto mayor, John Sewell has formed yet another organization. This one is called the Committee for Fair City Taxes.

The centerpoint of his campaign is to repeal Bill 140 that puts an annual cap on the rate of property tax increases for apartments and businesses. He has some valid points but why does he want to target tenants for more taxes?

As Mr. Sewell repeats at every chance, "the full burden of any tax increase should not rest on the shoulders of single-family home owners but be shared equally by all groups." He then goes on to talk about businesses and usually gives a horror story about some business, like the TD bank, paying low taxes. He then talks about how Bill 140 freezes taxes for everybody except single-family home owners; It does not freeze them, it merely caps the increases.

What Mr. Sewell repeatedly neglects to discuss (his website also neglects it at www.faircitytaxes.org), is how it will affect tenants, who as a group make up the majority of residents in Toronto, and who by far have much lower average incomes than home owners.

I as a tenant in a one-bedroom apartment pay about the same amount in property taxes as do owners of small neighbouring homes. Why? Because the city tax rates have penalized tenants for years. For the city set portion of the property taxes, tenants pay 4.1866840%, over 5 times the rate of home owners' 0.799702%. Even when you add the provincially set 0.414000% education tax, the tenant rate becomes 4.600840%, 3-3/4 times the 1.213702% rate for home owners!

Tenants are being evicted in record numbers through the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal, and who knows how many are being economically evicted through skyrocketing rents, but Mr. Sewell wants us to share equally in any property tax increases. This is not to say that some home owners are not poor, nor that we aren't all over taxed, but this repeated disregard for tenants makes me question why he never mentions what the effects of his proposals will be on Toronto's poorest residents.

According to a report I have from Professor David Hulchanski, the 1991 Census showed the median Toronto household income for renters was $33,500 only about half the $64,000 for home owners. Yet, John Sewell feels tenants should be "sharing equally" along with businesses and homeowners in any property tax increases. Some politicians are agreeing with Mr. Sewell saying that it is necessary to penalize tenants to save programs when it is clear it will hurt all tenants and increase the level of homelessness being experience by poor families.

TV Ontario's Studio 2 broadcast a program, March 7, 1996, on Rent Controls (which was also rebroadcast during the summer re-runs). This was at a time when the Harris government threats to tenant laws were hanging over the head of every tenant.

What did John Sewell say on that program? Sewell said: "Many people assume that rent control is there to protect people with lower incomes in the units they rent. In fact, it's upper income tenants who get most of the benefits. They say that the upper 1/3 of the tenants get 2/3 of the dollar benefits of rent control. In fact, the benefits don't flow to the people who are at the bottom of the scale when it comes to rents."

In spite of his claims of "fact" he has never provided any evidence to support his claims. I can tell you firsthand that poor tenants depend on rent controls and do benefit from them; many of us would be homeless without them.

In the same program Mr. Sewell stated that landlords have been saying they can't afford to do necessary repairs because of rent controls. The October 1993, CMHC report, Testing Hypotheses About Rent Controls, written by five professors from McMaster University, found no correlation between rent controls and the level of building maintenance. I have seen that good landlords maintained their buildings before rent controls and still do, while unscrupulous or incompetent landlords do not do proper maintenance regardless of whether or not there are controls. While Mr. Sewell's has never explicitly stated he is against rent controls, his comments on Studio 2 were clearly an attack against Rent Controls.

Mr. Sewell also wrote a story in Eye Weekly about what he thought an ideal neighbourhood was and described his own gentrified area, an area where many poor tenants have been driven out.

Robert Levitt, February 5, 2001

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