By ALAN SHACKLETON
Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) says it will be working to help a number of its tenants who have been impacted by a recent federal tax ruling that could see them lose provincial benefits.
Late last year a number of TCHC residents started receiving letters from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) telling them they owed a significant amount of back taxes connected to payments they had been receiving under the Ontario Trillium Benefit. They were also told they would no longer be eligible for a portion of that benefit payment.
The reason given was that they had failed to report on their tax returns that the TCHC buildings they lived had been made exempt by the City of Toronto from municipal education and property taxes.
The tenants say they had never been told by TCHC that their building (and there 383 of them according to TCHC) had been such a tax-exempt status.
The decision to grant the status to TCHC building was made by the city in 2011, and then pretty much forgotten about until the tenants receiving Ontario Trillium Benefits started getting letters from the CRA.
George (who did want his last name used) is a tenant in a TCHC seniors’ building in southwest Scarborough, and he made Beach Metro Community News aware of the situation regarding the CRA and the Trillium benefits.
He said residents were afraid they were going to lose their benefits, which they need to survive, for a mistake they had no idea they had even made.
“During that time (from 2011 on) they have failed to tell tenants the tenants that they could not use their rent receipts for income tax purpose,” said George of TCHC.
“In good faith, the tenants were using the rent receipts.”
Tenants who live in TCHC buildings that have the tax-exempt status have now been informed of this fact, but only after the CRA started sending the letters and frightened tenants started to ask what was going on, said George.
“This has hit thousands of adults and children,” he said.
Robin Smith, manager of media relations and issues management with TCHC, said the letters from the CRA are deeply concerning considering their impact on tenants living on low and fixed incomes.
Smith said it is a problem now being faced by community housing providers across the province.
The 2011 Toronto decision to provide tax-exempt status to numerous buildings had the “unintended consequence” of making many TCHC tenants ineligible for the Ontario Trillium Benefit that started the next year, said Smith. Though the tenants apparently did not know this.
“A decade has passed since these two events, so it is difficult to say with certainty what communication TCHC provided to tenants, as much of our communication is by mail, building posters and conversations led by frontline staff,” said Smith.
“With the benefit of hindsight, though, we can see that tenants would have benefitted from more information about how the new Ontario Trillium Benefit and TCHC’s property tax status interacted.”
TCHC is working with other community housing providers, including Ottawa Community Housing and CityHousing Hamilton, to advocate for the tenants impacted.
“We are partnering with the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONHPA) to lead advocacy to the federal and provincial government, requesting relief for the tenants,” said Smith.
“Together with ONHPA and our colleagues in Ottawa and Hamilton, we have written directly to the Minister of National Revenue and Ontario Minister of Finance, as has Mayor John Tory, in a separate letter.”
Substantial resources are being dedicated to help the impacted tenants, said Smith.
“We empathize with those who have been negatively affected by the CRA’s actions and we are working diligently to bring them relief and resolution.”