Over the past 20 years, life has taken some twists and turns for 77 year old Don Tebbutt; but even though he is legally blind and otherwise not in the greatest health; he still has enough fight in him to challenge City Housing Hamilton’s demand to see his bank statements. Tebbutt lives in a CHH unit next to Victoria Park on Strathcona. It wasn’t always this way, 20 years ago Don was a stationery engineer at Stelco, making good money and living with his family in a home on Kenora Avenue. But then glaucoma began to rob him of his sight, and at age 57, Don’s world started to come undone. His marriage broke up, and Don admits he didn’t handle that well—he spent 30 days in jail for a domestic altercation. As part of the divorce settlement he gave up the house and half of his Canada Pension.
He was forced by his blindness to retire early from Stelco which meant his company pension is only about $800 a month. Coupled with his CPP and Old Age Pension Don’s total income in 2012 was $23,000. He moved to City Housing Hamilton 14 years ago. Because he is doing a little better financially than many of the other geared-to-income residents of CHH, Don pays higher rent. He gets about a $60 discount on the market rent value of his apartment and he is fine with that. Don says in all of his previous years in City Housing he provided income verification by producing his income tax records. “But this year,” he said, “they want to look at my bank statements and want me to provide them with a list of people I owe money to and permission to contact them. It’s an infringement.” Out of his $23,000 income Don says he pays about $5,000 in food and veterinary bills for his aging guide dog Rennie who has been Don’s companion for 10 years and will reach retirement age next year. The Bay Observer contacted City Housing Hamilton CEO Brenda Osborne to ask why income tax records are not deemed an adequate proof of income.
In part the response was “While (income Tax) Notice of Assessment provides a snapshot of a person’s income it does not provide the current amount of income. Canada Pension and Old Age and GAINS are increased periodically which may not coincide with a person’s annual renewal and the requirement to confirm income. Bank Statements are a way to confirm what the person’s current pensions are as they are usually direct deposit.” To that Don notes that his Stelco pension is not indexed and does not change. As for his government pensions, in 2012 CPP benefits increased by 2.4 percent and Old Age Pension increased by 0.4 percent. In Don’s case this would have increased his 2012 income by $139.00, which was reported upon filing his 2012 tax return and presumably could be clawed back once CHH received his tax records. Ms Osborne also indicated that it is possible for a tenant to receive undocumented income that would not be captured in an income tax return.
The Income Tax Act calls for stiff fines and even jail for falsifying income tax returns. But it is irrelevant to Don who says that, aside from small increments in CPP and OAS, his income has been more or less static for the past 15 years. “We have people in these buildings who have sold their homes and given the money to their kids, and they’re (CHH) going after me for this?” He will start paying an additional $60 per month effective October 1.