SRA Economist Chris Gbekorbu recently spoke as an Association delegate during the City of Regina’s 2021 budget deliberation. Gbekorbu encouraged the City to do everything in its power to seek additional efficiencies that would minimize a tax increase to keep housing affordable.
Although the 2.34% increase to the property tax mill rate is the lowest since 2009, Gbekorbu reminded the City that Regina’s housing marketing has seen some significant challenges and to be mindful of the impact any greater tax increase could have on the market.
The 2021 property tax increase means a home assessed at $315,000 would see an increase of about $49.56 a year, or $4.13 per month. City administration said the average Regina home owner would pay $53 more in 2021. A mill rate is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.
The purpose of this submission is to inform City Council of the effect that property taxation has on housing affordability and to provide the Association’s views on the 2021 proposed budget.
SOME QUICK FACTS
- The Association represents over 1,400 individual REALTOR® members across the province in 180 member-offices. There are 36 member offices in Regina, with approximately 390 members.
- The Saskatchewan REALTORS® Association operates the Multiple Listing Service® System across Saskatchewan. Just under 2,600 properties valued at almost $782 million exchanged hands through the System in Regina in 2020.
- The real estate industry is the second-largest industry in Saskatchewan and employs over 7,600 people, with just over 2,000 in Regina. Across the province, the real estate industry is also responsible for creating over 3,200 direct and indirect spinoff jobs.
- On average, every home sold in the province is responsible for an additional $53,000 in economic activity, meaning that residential real estate is critical to the health of the provincial and local economy.
REGINA’S HOUSING MARKET
Regina’s housing market has gone through a very slow period in recent years. 2018 had the lowest number of residential sales since 2005, and 2019 was only slightly better than 2018 in terms of sales.
Since 2011, we’ve seen a trend of falling sales and prices (and in turn lost homeowner equity), active listings at all-time highs, and longer days for homes to sell—all suggesting a weakening housing market.
At the end of 2019, the Association’s MLS® Home Price Index showed price losses in the city of 4.8% from 2018, 13.2% from 2016, and 11.4% when compared with 2014. These were some of the highest price losses in Canada in percentage terms for any major market.
Although 2020 ended up being a strong year and 2021 is off to a good start, much of the activity has been fueled by the movement restrictions put in place due to COVID. And while the MLS® Home Price Index in Regina in 2020 was up 6.4% compared with 2019, this was up a mere 1.3% from prices in 2018. Furthermore, prices are still down 7.7% from where they were in 2016, and down 5.8% from where they were in 2014.
So even though we’ve had one good year, prices in Regina still have some way to go before they return to the highs of a few years ago. And as the vaccine rollout continues and the economy returns to “normal”, we could see the real estate market return to its more recent levels, meaning that it could still be quite some time before prices are back to where they used to be.
With this type of price loss, it would be fair to say that anyone who has purchased a home in Regina in the past few years with a minimum 5% down payment is likely underwater on their mortgage.
The Canadian Bankers Association reports that mortgage arrears in Saskatchewan are the highest in Canada. This presumably would also be the case in Regina.
Putting these together, the housing market has been going through a challenging time in recent years, and now continues to be a time to be particularly mindful about adding more cost to owning a home.
PROPERTY TAXATION AFFECTS HOUSING AFFORDABILITY AND DEMAND
Property tax is taken into account by mortgage lenders when approving financing. The higher the level of taxation, the less financing there is available to purchase a home.
The net of this is that property taxes add to the cost of home ownership. The more taken in tax, the less there is available for mortgage principal and other uses. It can also affect whether buyers can actually qualify for mortgage financing.
Thus, increases in property taxation affect both the cost of home ownership and qualifying for financing.
PROPERTY TAX RESEARCH – PUBLIC VIEWS
Praxis Analytics’ public trends survey polls residents about a variety of housing related issues, property taxation being one of them. The 2018 survey revealed some interesting results in the areas of property taxation.
Property tax was an important factor in consumers’ home buying decision, ranking only behind the purchase price and monthly mortgage payments, but ahead of insurance and utilities. Some other findings from the survey include:
- 16% believe the city should raise taxes when needing more revenue;
- 84% would prefer to see revenue raised mainly by increasing user fees; and
- 76% support dedicated tax increases to pay for specific needs known to taxpayers in advance (such as infrastructure).
ASSOCIATION POSITION ON PROPOSED 2021 BUDGET
We do agree with the general direction of the proposed budget as it is relatively transparent and the approach is consistent with the results from the aforementioned public survey. In particular, we support the 0.5% dedicated to recreational infrastructure as this helps in building attractive residential communities that benefit all homeowners.
Although the proposed increase is estimated to raise annual property taxes an average of just under $50 this year, this increase will continue to compound and help to make housing more unaffordable in the years to come. Thus, we would continue to encourage you to seek additional efficiencies that would minimize a tax increase and help to keep housing affordable.
Chris Gbekorbu, Economic Analyst
Saskatchewan REALTORS® Association