Manitoba

Manitoba's education tax rebate misdirected, say Tuxedo homeowner, West Broadway renter

The province's education property tax is not really about making life more affordable for Manitobans, says a Tuxedo homeowner, "because ultimately the biggest rebate cheques go to the people who own the most expensive real estate."

'The biggest rebate checks go to the people who own the most expensive real estate,' homeowner says

Thomas Rempel-Ong and his family live in this iconic Old Tuxedo home. It netted him a hefty property tax rebate cheque which he said he neither wants nor needs. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Thomas Rempel-Ong's home is the first image that pops up when you do a Google image search for "Old Tuxedo," one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. 

His 4,336-square-foot home netted him a $1,648 education property tax rebate last year — the 402nd largest cheque in the city, according to a CBC analysis.

That jumped to $2,414 this year due to a hike in his property value and an increase in the homeowner education tax rebate from 25 per cent in 2021 to 37.5 per cent.

But he argues the rebate isn't doing what it's intended to.

"The whole nature of this rebate shows that it's not about making life more affordable, because ultimately the biggest rebate cheques go to the people who own the most expensive real estate," said Rempel-Ong. 

"If the intent was 'let's help people who are struggling to pay the bills,' then I would argue the money should have gone solely towards the people who are struggling to pay the bills."

Rempel-Ong says the $350 million the province spent on the rebate this year could help a lot of people who are unhoused or who can barely pay rent, through a tax break specifically directed to the lowest-income earners, for example.

A man wearing glasses and a grey T-shirt sits outside.
Thomas Rempel-Ong says the rebate has cost the province a sizeable amount of money which would have been better spent on an initiative like a tax break for the lowest-income earners. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

When former premier Brian Pallister announced the rebate of a percentage of the tax collected to fund K-12 education in 2021, he said the goal was to put money "back into the hands of the people" like seniors, families struggling financially and small businesses.

Rempel-Ong, 35, came into his wealth through an inheritance. He calls himself lucky, but acknowledges many Manitobans can't afford to own a home.

'A handout we didn't ask for'

Household incomes in his neighbourhood average $149,982, making it the third-wealthiest in Winnipeg. The average for the city is $68,331, according to Statistics Canada. 

Last month, a CBC analysis of Winnipeg dwellings revealed the top 10 per cent of education tax rebate cheques in 2021 added up to four times more than the bottom 10 per cent.

Rempel-Ong says his rebate will do nothing except collect interest.

For wealthier property owners, "it's a handout we didn't ask for, so we just put it in the bank," he said.

Brendan Devlin lives about 10 minutes away from Old Tuxedo in an apartment building in West Broadway.

When the education property tax rebate was implemented in 2021, renters like Devlin were promised a rent freeze to make up for a drop in their tax offset, which decreased from $700 to $525.

The province said landlords would see lower operating costs thanks to the 37.5 per cent rebate they'd get in 2022, and that it set the the annual rent increase guideline at zero per cent for 2022 and 2023 "to help ensure that tenants benefit from these savings to landlords."

However, landlords can apply for above-guideline increases if they incur extra expenses.

Devlin received notice his landlord, Onyx Property Management, applied to raise his rent by 22 per cent following work in building hallways, like new paint and flooring — "prestige renovations" that were meant to hike the property value, not improve suites, and which were unwanted, he said.

"Then [Onyx] told us that we'd be footing the bill."

Policies like the education tax rebate 'are squeezing the incomes of the lowest-income Manitobans … and loading more money into the pockets of some of the wealthiest Manitobans,' says Brendan Devlin. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

He and his neighbours opposed the increase, which subsequently, and without explanation, was decreased to 14.3 per cent by the landlord.

The Residential Tenancies Branch lowered it slightly to 13.3 per cent after residents objected, but the double-digit increase remains a huge financial hit for Devlin and his neighbours.

"It's harmful. And it means that people will have to start looking at different homes," said Devlin, 25, a grad student at the University of Manitoba.

He says Onyx informed him it will give tenants a rent discount equivalent to just under 37 per cent of the increase, which can be revoked at any time with three months notice.

Devlin and his neighbours are appealing the increase, and he encourages other renters to do the same. 

"What we want to see is tenants wielding the power they have by organizing collectively, and government responding to that and creating actual rent control that actually concretely protects tenants," said Devlin.

The tenants at Devlin's Langside Street building are appealing a 13.3 per cent rent increase. The landlord applied for the above-guideline increase after doing renovations in the hallways. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

On average, landlords who applied for above-guideline increases in 2021 asked for 13.4 per cent and were awarded 9.2 per cent, according to the Residential Tenancies Branch. 

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said property owners have the right to choose to upgrade properties and apply for increases, despite the zero per cent guideline his Progressive Conservative government implemented.

In a written statement, he said the education property tax rebate, which amounted to an average of $600 to homeowners, is a concrete measure the government has taken to help working-class Manitobans.

"Families continue to express that they are appreciative of our government's efforts" to help them save money, Friesen said.

That doesn't include Devlin.

He says policies like the tax rebate "are squeezing the incomes of the lowest-income Manitobans, most vulnerable Manitobans … and loading more money into the pockets of some of the wealthiest Manitobans."

Manitoba's education tax rebate misdirected, say homeowners

2 months ago
Duration 2:38
Manitoba’s education property tax rebate was touted as a way to put money back into the hands of people struggling to make ends meet, seniors on fixed incomes and small businesses. A wealthy Tuxedo landowner and a West Broadway renter both believe the rebate missed the mark.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of the story said the rent discount was equivalent to the rent increase. In fact, the rent discount was equivalent to just under 37 per cent of the increase, according to Devlin.
    Jun 27, 2022 11:41 AM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Levasseur

Producer, CBC News I-Team

Joanne Levasseur is a producer for the CBC News I-Team based in Winnipeg. She has worked at CBC for more than two decades. Twitter: @joannehlev

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