Gentrification hits tax bills for people in Hamilton's lower city

Usually, double-digit assessment increases are reserved for areas like Waterdown. But new numbers show everyone wants to live downtown.

This sort of increase has historically happened in areas like Waterdown, but now downtown is a destination

Gentrification is hitting people's tax bills. Wards 1 through 4 - Hamilton's lower city - has the highest increase to tax assessment. (City of Hamilton)

It's a sign gentrification is hitting bank accounts in earnest. For the first time in decades, lower city wards have the largest property assessment increases of anywhere in Hamilton. And residents are having trouble paying.

More and more, people want to be part of that big city living.- Coun. Jason Farr

Because of the reassessments, wards 1 through 4 — from the west end to east Hamilton — will see some of the highest property tax increases for the next four years.

In Wards 1 through 3, for example, assessments will climb about 35 per cent. That is nine percentage points higher than the average city increase.

For those homeowners, it means paying a bigger share of whatever tax increase city council decides in its is 2017 budget. It also means the lower city as a whole will supply a larger share of the city's taxes.

The assessment increase will be phased in over four years. The increases in the lower city have been seen historically in suburban areas such as Waterdown or Glanbrook, where new houses constantly spring up over the countryside.

"It's flipped," said Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor.

And while it means homeowners are sitting on valuable land, "it doesn't help them with the here and now and the stark realities of their rising taxes."

Increasing property values are most helpful to people who sell. But "most North Enders don't want to move," he said. "Most downtowners like where they are."

That just leaves them with higher taxes.

For the most part, it's a windfall for homeowners.- Coun. Sam Merulla

Assessment refers to the official value of a property in the city and impacts how much of the city's total budget a homeowner has to pay. The new assessments are the province catching up with increasing house values in the city. A bigger assessment only means more taxes if your increase is bigger than the average increase in your area.

For cities, commercial and industrial assessment is more valuable because it helps fund services for residents, but it's been decreasing here. Residential now accounts for about 80 per cent of the city's assessment.

The average assessment increase over the next four years is 26.1 per cent. Areas above that percentage — the lower city, for example — will see proportionately higher increases in taxes, while areas below 26.1 per cent will see their share of taxes go down.

Hamilton's housing boom is largely responsible for the lower city's reversal of fortune. Buyers have flocked there in recent years, drawn by the character-laden housing stock and relatively low housing prices. Farr says car-free millennials are especially drawn downtown.

"More and more," he said, "people want to be part of that big city living."

Definitely in this market, there are winners and losers.- Coun. Chad Collins

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, sees the increase as a good thing. People's taxes are increasing, but so is their equity.

"The great news is individual wealth is increasing dramatically," he said. "For the most part, it's a windfall for homeowners."

The whole city faces double-digit assessment increases. Phasing in those increases over four years makes it easier on residents, Merulla says.

Chad Collins, Ward 5 councillor, has been here before. Housing prices on Hamilton's beach strip increased 100 per cent from 2003 to 2012. One resident says his taxes have quadrupled since 2002.

For long-time residents selling their homes, "it's like they've won the lottery," Collins said. But those on fixed incomes who want to stay, struggle.

"Definitely in this market, there are winners and losers," he said. 

"We're starting to see the hot real estate market have an impact on everyone now, irrespective of where you live."

Total residential assessment changes by ward

The city is phasing in these changes over four years, starting this year.

  • Ward 1: 35.3 per cent.
  • Ward 2: 35.
  • Ward 3: 35.
  • Ward 4: 28.3.
  • Ward 5: 25.7.
  • Ward 6: 26.2.
  • Ward 7: 28.
  • Ward 8: 26.7.
  • Ward 9: 26.
  • Ward 10: 26.
  • Ward 11: 24.1.
  • Ward 12: 24.6.
  • Ward 13: 24.
  • Ward 14: 21.3.
  • Ward 15: 24.
  • Average: 26.1.

2017 average residential assessment

  • Ward 1: $332,000.
  • 2: 221,700.
  • 3: 173,600.
  • 4: 185,100.
  • 5: 255,000.
  • 6: 266,800.
  • 7: 294,900.
  • 8: 316,800.
  • 9: 321,500.
  • 10: 322,400.
  • 11 (Stoney Creek): 392,200.
  • 11 (Glanbrook): 339,700.
  • 12: 473,500.
  • 13: 392,700.
  • 14 (Ancaster): 410,200.
  • 14 (Flamborough): 430,700.
  • 15: 441,600.
  • Average: $315,000.