Beware - LRT is going to raise your property taxes

Beware - LRT is going to raise your property taxes
Posted on March 18, 2017 | Alex Cullen | Written on March 18, 2017
Letter type:


Ottawa Citizen

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

A recent Toronto Star story reported on a Toronto Real Estaste Board report on how property values would increase in neighbourhoods where GO Transit was expanding. I realized this would apply to OIttawa's LRT expansion. As an economist, I also knew how regressive property taxes are, and how unaccountable the property asssessment system is. The TREB report gave me the opportunity to illustrate these points, and hopefully provide some impetus towards much-needed reforms.

Recently the Toronto Real Estate Board published a report extolling the virtues of GO Transit expansion in the Greater Toronto Area, citing rising property values as proof. There is a lesson here for the residents of the City of Ottawa – be careful of what you wish for. The expansion of Ottawa's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan will likely lead to increased property values along its corridor, particularly as the City increases development potential (and density) to support its LRT plan. And increased property values leads directly to increased property taxes for those lucky people living in that corridor, as property assessment is based on property values.


Some might say that this is only just, since these people stand to benefit from having LRT so close by. But it illustrates the vagaries of using property values to determine your property tax liability. For one thing, nobody elected the property market to set property taxes - there is no-one to hold accountable here. And secondly, I doubt if anyone's incomes increased as a result of the LRT going nearby, but higher property values will mean higher property taxes will have to be paid.


Property values are independent of personal income. A young family starting out living on the same street in the same style housing as a two-income no-kids professional couple will pay the same property taxes if their property assessments match. And the same can be said about the retired couple living on pension income next door. Not exactly a fair system. In fact, property taxes are deemed regressive by most economists.


And while it is pleasant to think that the wealthy living in mansions pay more property tax, the evidence shows that as wealth increases the proportion of income spent on property taxes actually decreases - another example of how regressive property taxes are.


My point here is that using property taxes based on the value of your home is inappropriate to fund major public projects, yet it is the only source of income cities have, other than user fees. And hiking transit user fees will drive away the very people who the City wants to use public transit. The better alternative is to use the revenues from ability-to-pay taxes (like income tax) to pay for major public projects like LRT. The irony is that one hundred years ago cities had these taxes, before the federal and provincial governments expropriated them.


These fiscal arrangements need to be re-thought if cities, often touted as the engines for growth in the new economy, are to provide the public infrastructure to support economic growth. Property taxes can't do it.

About The Author

AlexCullen's picture

Former OBE Trustee (1982-88), Ottawa City Councillor (1991-94), RMOC Councillor (1991-97), MPP Ottawa West (1997-99), Ottawa City Councillor (2000-2010). Economist, former Policy Analyst NHW (1982-91), former... More