B.C. Budget 2023 bets focus on tax credits and rebates will work amid continued housing uncertainty
Some wonder whether rhetoric around affordability first developed in 2017 matches the realities of 2023
There may be a new leader, but the message from the B.C. NDP government in the first budget under premier David Eby remained much the same.
"We have focused on people since day 1, and budget 2023 builds on it," said Finance Minister Katrine Conroy, delivering the province's $80 billion budget on Tuesday, which forecasts a $4.2 billion deficit.
"We're focused on finding a way back to balanced budgets but not at the expense of the services we all rely on."
Like previous NDP budgets, there were new targeted measures for less advantaged groups ($125 more to the monthly shelter rate) and broad-based tax credits tied to income (increasing the B.C. Family Benefit between $75 and $750), delivered under an inclusive soundbite and slogan — in this case a "Stronger B.C. for Everyone."
Like any budget, there was plenty one could focus on, from nearly a billion dollars over the next three years in mental health supports to the surge in infrastructure spending across the province.
But nearly six years into this government, one of the biggest questions for some is whether rhetoric around affordability first developed in 2017 matches the realities of 2023.
Yearly rebate covers a month of increases
The obvious example is the much-touted renters' rebate, finally delivered (in the modified form of a means-based tax credit) in this year's budget.
"That was what our commitment was," said Conroy, saying they had continued to hear from renters about the promise since it was first raised before the 2017 election.
But when the NDP made the promise, the average monthly rent in Metro Vancouver was $1,236, according to the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation.
In 2022, it had risen to $1,675 — a $441 difference.
In other words, the $400 tax credit won't even cover a single month of the increases that have been seen for most renters since the NDP first promised it.
WATCH | Finance minister says government rebates are helping:
And put another way, the maximum two per cent increase that landlords are able to increase rent by works out to an average of $402 for that average Metro Vancouver rental property.
That's not to say renters — who make up a third of households in British Columbia — haven't gotten assistance under this government. MSP premiums are a thing of the past, and in this budget alone, the shelter rate was increased by $125 a month.
But housing advocates say it highlights how difficult it is to achieve affordability in a provincial budget when people's highest monthly expense takes up more and more of their personal budget.
"The best way to deliver affordability for everyone is to get the rent lowered. Unfortunately, there's nothing here in the budget that suggests to me that's going to happen," said Doug King, executive director of the Together Against Poverty Society.
"Certainly, the tax credits are good, but we're not getting to that core problem, which is rents are going up."
Credits could give more than $1,000 to some
The renter credit also adds to the means-based tax credits the NDP has focused on while in office, including the expansion to the B.C. Family Benefit and the climate action tax credit, which were also announced Tuesday.
Add those three tax credits together and include the shelter rate increase, and individuals in B.C. could see more than $1,000 from the B.C. government per month compared to last year, depending on their status.
At the same time, it's a jumble of different programs with rebates coming to people at different times.
"We have to scramble everywhere else to try and raise the shelter allowance, to make sure child care isn't a rent-sized payment … but we're always losing ground," said Paul Kershaw, the founder of Generation Squeeze.
"Why do we continue to tolerate home prices leaving earnings behind?"
WATCH | Kershaw says budget won't solve affordable housing crisis:
While economists are split on the merits of credits versus direct assistance depending on the program, Conroy expressed confidence in the province's approach.
"I haven't heard anyone complain they got their $100 rebate on the power bill," said Conroy, referencing one of two one-time rebates the government has announced in recent months.
"Those are the kinds of things that make a difference in people's lives."
Which is undoubtedly true.
But whether British Columbians feel that it's enough — or the right strategy for dealing with affordability — is a question they will answer at the polls at some point in the next 18 months.
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