Homeless in Vancouver: City makes homeowner grant online-only, shafting thousands of elderly homeowners

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      Applications for the annual B.C. homeowner grant (HOG) are due on July 4, and people who own homes in Vancouver are receiving notices in the mail telling them that if they want to claim the grant this year, they must now do so online. As the City of Vancouver’s HOG webpage states:

      “Starting 2018, there is no longer the option to mail in your grant.”

      This sudden elimination by the City of Vancouver of support for claiming the grant by mail creates a difficult and potentially insurmountable hurdle for tens of thousands of elderly who are tax-paying Vancouver homeowners but not computer users. As such it is discriminatory and immoral, if not completely illegal.

      I did not take the time to check more than a few other Metro Vancouver municipalities. But the ones I did—Abbotsford, Anmore, Armstrong, Bowen Island, Burnaby, Central Saanich, Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Delta, Kamloops, Kelowna, Maple Ridge, Nanaimo, Richmond, Surrey and Victoria—all offer both electronic and mail-in options for claiming the homeowner grant.

      The District of Mission actually appears to have (as of 2017) eliminated the option of claiming the HOG online.

      Maple Ridge makes a particular point of stating that (like all municipalities, apparently) it is “required to administer the Home Owner Grant Program on behalf of the Province of British Columbia”.

      Many of the municipalities strongly encourage residents to claim the grant online, in order to save processing costs, but all I have checked, besides Vancouver, still offer their residents the option to use the mail instead of a computer.

      The City of Vancouver should never have gone whole HOG (as it were) to electronic filing and it should immediately reinstate the mail-in option for claiming the homeowner grant in time for this year’s deadline!

      Senior citizens: high home ownership, low computer use

      According to Statistics Canada figures for 2016 (the most recent figures released), Internet usage among Canadians 65 years of age and older experienced the largest increase from 2013 of any age group but that still meant that 32 percent of Canadians aged 65 years and older—and 50 percent of those aged 75 and older—did not go online, even a few times, in 2016.

      In Vancouver, as of 2016, there were some 97,570 residents aged 65 and older, and 43,970 aged 75 and older. Residents aged 65 and older represented 15.5 percent of the city’s total population.

      Available statistics linking home ownership directly to age are neither deep nor recent but, as of 2006, Statistics Canada said that 76.3 percent of Canadians aged 65 to 74—and 68 percent of those 75 and older—owned a home.

      When I dump all the above numbers in my junk math blender, the result is a dubious statistical smoothie suggesting that something like 23,822 people aged 65 and older may own a home in Vancouver but not use a computer.

      Who will complain if the elderly won’t?

      Even half or a quarter of the number I arrived at would be too many people to justify eliminating the option to claim the the B.C. Homeowner grant by mail.

      However, elderly homeowners—even if they end up losing out on their right to claim the annual grant because they cannot submit their application electronically—are probably the least likely group to complain on their own behalf.

      I’m not a homeowner, so I only learned about this latest bit of underhanded unreasonableness on the part of Vancouver because a retired homeowner brought it up in conversation over coffee this morning at McDonald’s—not to complain, mind you, but to ask me if a nearby public library branch had publicly accessible computers.

      This is someone who has barely, if ever, touched a computer and after I coaxed the details out of him, I happily offered to facilitate his claiming the homeowner grant for his Vancouver home using my laptop.

      The online process looks straightforward enough, requiring nothing more than entry folio number and access code printed on the notice he received in the mail.

      But elderly Vancouver homeowners should not have to cast about to find a computer-literate friend to help them. And they may not be willing or able to use a public library computer terminal. And, as I say, they should not have to.

      The city is going too far for no discernible good reason and, whatever its rationale, it is taking an important municipal service away from the one group of ratepayers who, by definition, have paid more property tax than any other homeowner age bracket. And what’s more, the city is likely counting on the elderly not to make a fuss about it and the younger generation not to care.

      But younger Vancouver residents (who will not be much inconvenienced by the loss of the "snail mail” option) should care and protest to the City of Vancouver on behalf of elderly homeowners on fixed incomes—who stand to lose a tax break they may need more than most homeowners.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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