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  • N.S. offers hotels, motels property tax rebate to help with COVID-induced losses
    Business
    The Canadian Press

    N.S. offers hotels, motels property tax rebate to help with COVID-induced losses

    HALIFAX — Nova Scotia hotel, motel and inn operators hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are being offered a property tax rebate.The rebate program will cost about $4.6 million, Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said Thursday following a cabinet meeting. The program starts Nov. 16 and will provide qualified operators with a 25 per cent rebate on their 2020-21 commercial property tax bill.MacLellan said the measure had been requested by the tourism industry, adding that he recognized businesses are still facing tough times. "Twenty-five per cent of the property tax is not going to be that magic policy wand that fixes everything," he said. He said the rebate had also been requested by the Halifax Regional Municipality because of the number of hotels in the province's largest city.In order to be eligible for the rebate, a business must have paid its 2020-21 commercial tax bill in full and operate more than five rooms. Operators who were not in business before April 1 can benefit from the rebate if they can demonstrate their occupancy rate has been below 50 per cent since they opened. Nova Scotia says its tourism industry is expected to generate $900 million in 2020, compared to nearly $2.7 billion last year. It says lodging operators experienced on average a 56 per cent decrease in the number of nights sold between January and the end of August, compared with the same period last year.Megan Delaney of the Hotel Association of Nova Scotia said in a news release that the rebate program is a "great first step," but said the association would continue to work with the province to secure more help."Hotels need relief that will not only sustain us now, but that will work toward the regeneration of our industry in the future," Delaney said.The rebate follows an announcement earlier this month of $50 million in loan guarantees for larger tourism operators, such as resorts and tour operations, which are struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. That program will provide eligible operators access to debt financing, such as lines of credit or term loans issued by a chartered bank or the Business Development Bank of Canada, at favourable terms.MacLellan said the province is considering other options to help businesses with the "cost side of their balance sheet." Those measures, he said, could include a travel-incentive program -- something the province had earlier rejected."It will be open for discussion," MacLellan said.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

  • Fair housing groups: Redfin 'redlines' minority communities
    Business
    The Canadian Press

    Fair housing groups: Redfin 'redlines' minority communities

    SEATTLE — Several fair housing organizations accused Redfin of systematic racial discrimination in a lawsuit Thursday, saying the online real estate broker offers fewer services to homebuyers and sellers in minority communities — a type of digital redlining that has depressed home values and exacerbated historic injustice in the housing market.In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the organizations said that during a two-year investigation they documented the effect of Redfin's “minimum price policy,” which requires homes to be listed for certain prices to reap the benefits of Redfin's services.The company was vastly less likely to offer realtor services, professional photos, virtual tours, online promotion or commission rebates for homes listed in overwhelmingly minority neighbourhoods than it was in overwhelmingly white ones, the investigation found.That meant homes in minority neighbourhoods were likely to stay on the market longer and sell for lower prices than they otherwise might have, the lawsuit said.“Redfin’s policies and practices operate as a discriminatory stranglehold on communities of colour, often the very communities that have been battered by a century of residential segregation, systemic racism, and disinvestment,” the lawsuit said.The lawsuit comes as the nation reckons with generations of systemic racism, including in real estate. Mortgage lenders and brokers long discriminated by drawing lines on maps — known as redlining — and refusing to provide services for homes outside of white areas, preventing minority residents from building wealth through homeownership. Though the practice was outlawed decades ago, it has had severe consequences in perpetuating poverty and restricting access to good schools, health care and other amenities.Litigation in the 1990s and 2000s helped erase similar minimum value policies in the insurance industry, where companies would provide substandard homeowners policies or no policies based on a home’s age and market value.Redfin, based in Seattle, launched in 2006 and has grown to offer residential real estate brokering, mortgage, title and other services in more than 90 markets in the U.S. and Canada. In a statement Thursday, CEO Glenn Kelman insisted that the company had not violated the federal Fair Housing Act, “which clearly supports a business’s decisions to set the customers and areas it serves based on legitimate business reasons such as price.”However, he said, the lawsuit raised important questions that Redfin has struggled with.“Our long-term commitment is to serve every person seeking a home, in every community, profitably,” Kelman said. “The challenge is that we don’t know how to sell the lowest-priced homes while paying our agents and other staff a living wage, with health insurance and other benefits. This is why Redfin agents aren’t always in low-priced neighbourhoods.”Redfin might seem an unlikely target for such a lawsuit: It has previously said it is devoted to eradicating systematic discrimination in the industry and that enabling people of colour to find listings online — rather than relying on an agent to show them what homes are available — could help end segregation. Two years ago Kelman hosted a symposium on racial prejudice in real estate.The company once experimented with awarding realtors commissions based on customer satisfaction rather than sale price, as a way to promote the sale of less expensive homes, but found it difficult to recruit agents who expected to make more money for selling more expensive homes.But Redfin’s minimum price and other policies have had the opposite effect, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination, and nine of its member organizations. With financial support from U.S. Housing and Urban Development, they studied the policy's effect in Baltimore; Chicago; Detroit; Kansas City; Long Island, New York; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee; Newark, New Jersey; and Philadelphia.Under the minimum price policy, Redfin doesn't offer its full services unless homes are listed for certain prices, which vary by market. When potential buyers click on homes that fall below those minimums, they receive a message saying, “Redfin is currently unable to show this property.”The lawsuit disputed the notion that Redfin’s practice was justified by business concerns, noting the company charges a minimum commission for the sales it handles.In Chicago last June, the company didn't offer services unless the homes were listed for at least $400,000, the lawsuit said. In adjacent, predominantly white DuPage County, however, the minimum price was just $275,000.In Detroit the same month, the minimum was set at $700,000. In the surrounding, mostly white areas outside the city limits, it was $250,000.Further, it alleged, Redfin sometimes failed to provide services even when a home's price topped the minimum. That was much more common in predominately minority neighbourhoods, including Chicago's South Side, the organizations said.Using Census data to compare ZIP codes that are at least 70% white with those that are at least 70% minority, the organizations compared listings for which Redfin offered its “best available service” with those for which it offered no service on multiple dates over the past two years.On June 12, for example, there were 218 homes posted on Redfin in non-white neighbourhoods in the Kansas City area. Of them, 16 had Redfin's best service and 127 were offered no service.By contrast, there were 4,550 homes in predominately white neighbourhoods of Kansas City. More than half received the best available service and only 14% had no service, the lawsuit said.Similar disparities were found in other cities, it said. On Long Island last Aug. 20, listings in white ZIP codes were 55 times more likely to receive Redfin's best service.In minority ZIP codes of Louisville, none of the 108 homes posted on Nov. 21, 2018, or the 31 homes listed on June 11, 2020, received Redfin's best service, the groups found.The lawsuit asks the court to block any Redfin policies found to violate federal fair housing law and seeks punitive damages.Brandon Scott, Baltimore's City Council president and mayoral candidate, sent a letter to Redfin on Thursday calling for an end to the policy.Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said the groups did not share their findings with Redfin before filing the lawsuit because past experience with the industry sometimes resulted in long, unsuccessful negotiations that only protracted the issues.“We have had decades and decades and decades of discriminatory practices in the real estate field,” she said. “Real estate agents are some of the most well-trained professionals in the industry. They know what redlining is.”Gene Johnson, The Associated Press

  • Business
    Yahoo Finance Canada Videos

    Editor's Edition: Real estate still resilient during COVID-19

    Canada's biggest real estate markets have not only avoided a collapse, they continue to break records, despite the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.  But not all types of homes are in high demand. As more people work from home they are leaving Toronto and Vancouver condos behind for more space in the suburbs and beyond, which is helping push rent on some types of buildings down to levels not seen in years. The urban exodus has however pushed prices for single-family homes higher in the suburbs and beyond. Realosophy Realty’s John Pasalis and Oakwyn Realty’s Steve Saretsky help make sense of it all, with advice for anyone buying or selling a home. They also tell us why they think markets have been able to weather the economic storm brought on by the pandemic and why Toronto and Vancouver real estate is likely to stay hotter into the winter. Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains. Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.