Most post-secondary institutions and residence buildings across Canada are exempt from paying property tax to municipal governments. In Alberta, however, residence buildings are taxed hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
One priority for the Council of Alberta University Students, a student advocacy group that represents 70,000 Albertan undergraduates, is to lobby provincial and municipal governments to remove these residence property taxes, bringing money back to student services and making living in residence better.
“Why are students being taxed, why are residence structures being taxed and why are we the only province where this is happening?” asked University of Calgary Students’ Union vice-president external and chair of CAUS Raphael Jacob. “Across the country, it’s generally assumed that post-secondary institutions and residence institutions are not levied property taxes.”
According to Jacob, the U of C’s residences are levied an average of $500,000 annually. He also said that the U of C’s residence buildings should not to be taxed.
“We find it interesting that our residence buildings are wholly on campus, they have no market value and can only be used for student living purposes, so we needed to ask why the U of C is paying property taxes on these structures,” said Jacob.
Every year, residence associations in Alberta appeal the taxes — the U of C receives roughly $150,000 in tax returns. Jacob said this process takes unnecessary resources.
“It takes time, lawyers, staff involvement and money, which swiftly cuts into how much money we are actually getting back,” said Jacob. “It’s honestly a stupid system, it’s wildly inefficient and it needs to be changed.”
The U of C administration, Residence and Ancillary Services, the SU and student associations from other schools in the province are currently discussing ways to lobby provincial and municipal governments to change residence property taxes. There are two main lobby goals: eliminating or greatly reducing the taxes and receiving more money in return to go towards student services, like residence maintenance.
Residences in Alberta operate on a cost-recovery model, which means they do not profit, and due to property taxes, rent is higher and maintenance is postponed.
Jacob said maintaining residences are a top priority if any of the taxed money is returned.
“We want to make sure that the money is used to benefit students and bring positive changes to schools in Alberta,” he said. “By the end of the summer we want to have a signed letter about our plans.”
Other CAUS priorities include restoring provincial tuition cap, non-instructional fees, removing barriers to voting and increasing post-secondary participation.