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Details, timeline for changes to B.C. foreign homebuyers tax unclear

No timeline set for changes to foreign buyers tax

VANCOUVER — A man who lost thousands of dollars when British Columbia introduced a tax on foreigners buying homes says tweaks to the policy are a good step forward but the harm has already been done to his family.

Nic Benner and his family had just moved to the Vancouver area from Colorado for his job in the telecom industry when the tax came into effect and were surprised to find it would apply to deals that were signed before it was announced last summer.

Benner signed a contract last May for a new home in Langley where he and his wife planned to raise their four daughters. But the tax added about $80,000 to the price tag, which the family couldn't afford.

"What the government had done was put us in a position, and I'm sure other families in a position, where there was no relief," Benner said in an interview on Monday.

The family walked away from the deal and has been renting ever since.

Premier Christy Clark announced Sunday the government would lift the tax for people who have work permits and pay taxes. The 15-per-cent tax was implemented Aug. 2 in a bid to cool skyrocketing real estate prices in Metro Vancouver.

Amending the policy to exempt people with work permits is a good step forward, Benner said, but it doesn't change the impact the tax has already had.

"They've already done damage and they've already hurt families, including mine. And I hope they will work in an expedited way to correct the damage that has been done," he said, adding that he has written to the government asking for compensation.

David Eby, housing critic for the Opposition NDP, said the tax made it more difficult for companies to recruit and retain employees because it added a surprise cost to living in Metro Vancouver.

"When the government introduced the tax, it actually made housing even more expensive for this group of people who want to come and live and work here and help build our province, it made absolutely no sense," he said.

Eby said his party tried to address the problem with an amendment when the tax was introduced, but were defeated in the legislature, where the Liberals hold a majority.

Dealing with the tax was difficult for people who wanted to move to B.C. and be part of the community, he said.

"It was quite devastating for them and for many families in that situation. One of the things I'm wondering is will the government pay that money back to them as an apology for what they did to these families that were trying to help build our province," Eby said.

The Finance Ministry said in a statement that details of the regulations were still being worked out, including when the new policy will come into effect and whether it will retroactively cover people with work permits who have already paid the tax.

It said the tax has been effective.

"Now that the additional tax has effectively cut back the excessive demand we were seeing last year, we are in a position to make the adjustments necessary to help ensure we can keep attracting highly skilled workers."

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press