Toronto would look prettier without boarded up stores, say supporters of Mayor John Tory’s property tax rebate cut.
“Imagine a person with the most beautiful set of teeth — now imagine that person with one tooth missing,” St. Paul’s councillor Joe Mihevc says.
The proposed rebate cut will benefit neighbourhoods by helping businesses to thrive and prevent closures, Mihevc and local merchants say.
Tory recently announced the city will scrap rebates for closed commercial properties. The decision is expected to save the city $22 million annually. Owners of vacant properties received $367 million in rebates between 2001 and 2013.
“An empty storefront on a otherwise thriving street is an absolute eyesore,” Mihevc says. “To think that we facilitate that by giving them a tax-break seems absolutely ludicrous.”
Liz Guerrier, chair of the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association, supports the rebate cut because it will keep streets busy.
“Busy streets are better for businesses,” she says. “The more retail spots, restaurants, etc, on my block, and the blocks around here — the better for me.”
Guerrier says closed spaces prevent residents from exploring the neighbourhood. “They look down St. Clair and see a bunch of empty storefronts. They don’t know beyond those empty storefronts, there’s vibrant things happening.”
Budgets for BIAs operate on levees that are a part of commercial property taxes. When fewer properties are open, it affects funding.
“We have less money to spend on street benches, planters, pedestrian lighting and vibrant art projects,” says Guerrier.
Loophole for property owners
Owners whose property includes both commercial space and rental units may be taking advantage of rebates.
“The commercial property tax is the largest portion of the property tax,” Guerrier says. “Owners were collecting rent from the apartments above and not bothering to rent out the commercial space on the bottom.”
This practice can be an incentive for property owners to keep their commercial stores closed.
The city is yet to receive approval of the rebate cut from the Ontario Government.