Halifax waives back taxes for North Preston residents with clear land titles

Halifax is waiving back taxes for some North Preston residents who received a large bill after finally getting clear title to their land.

On Tuesday, Halifax regional council approved staff’s request to discharge $57,529 in property taxes from three relief applications from the historically Black community.

“I’m pleased that these particular three files will finally come to a resolution. It’s been many years, if not decades, for a lot of these,” area councillor David Hendsbee said in an interview.

The province is working through hundreds of claims under the Land Titles Initiative, which helps residents in the African Nova Scotian communities of North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook/Lake Loon, Lincolnville and Sunnyville get clear land titles.

Starting with their arrival in the 18th century, Black settlers were not given legal title to their land, like deeds. Without this, residents cannot sell their property or legally pass it down to other relatives.

A staff report said the largest of the three claims is for $42,732. The applicant has been working through the land title process for the past few years, and became the registered owner of their parcel in March 2021.

The tax bill includes interest and arrears going back to 1995, and staff suggested that those taxes be waived given that the applicant wasn’t aware that taxes were owing.   

The other two claims were for $2,825 and $11,970. In both cases, applicants became the registered owners of the properties in 2022 and their tax bill had arrears going back to 2015 and 2005, respectively. 

Making a ‘clean slate’

“The land titles clarification process is generally accepted as expensive and difficult to navigate,” the staff report said, so providing tax relief is one option council can use to “relieve the financial burdens” faced by residents going through this process.

Hendsbee said it’s difficult to actually collect these taxes since there might have been competing claims to the land over the decades.

“We just felt that with the sensitivity of the files that we should just do this and get rid of the back taxes that were owed, and have a clean slate to move forward with,” Hendsbee said.

The staff report said the financial impact to the municipality for discharging these taxes are “minimal” and covered under an account that budgets for lost tax money.

David Hendsbee is Halifax councillor for Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

This is only the second time that council has been asked to waive past property taxes related to land title claims in Black communities.

The first one was in March 2018, when council approved an in-camera (private) report to discharge the tax bill. A municipal spokesperson said Tuesday that the amount was around $2,000.

“I anticipate there’ll be more of these files to come forward in the future, hopefully sooner than later,” Hendsbee said.

In 2021, the province announced $3 million to help resolve cases where there are competing land claims for residents of the five participating Black communities.

At the time, the province said applications had been filed for 527 of the 850 eligible parcels, and roughly 200 of those had their titles cleared.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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