Homeownership big election issue for Canadians

By Peter Squire

One election ends and another begins.

Provincial MLAs are already back in session this week after the September 10 vote, while the federal election is getting into the home stretch with the first English federal leaders’ debate scheduled for October 7 — just two weeks from the October 21 election day.

It is hard not to agree with a number of media commentator’s assessments that there has been such a smorgasbord of offerings from the different federal parties that it is difficult to sort it all out. Moreover, what is the price tag for all of the election platforms thus far?  It is a very competitive election at this point, with polling showing the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck and a potential minority government in the offing.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) is doing its part by making sure homeownership is part of the focus of this federal election given its importance to Canadians and the economy. CREA’s election website — realideas.ca — contains a number of solid proposals for supporting homeownership and taking steps to improve housing affordability. Here, you will find a page called “REAL Ideas for Homeownership,” created in consultation with REALTORS® from across Canada. These policy proposals include recommendations related to housing supply, rules and regulations, affordability and debt reduction — all meant to help more Canadians achieve the dream of homeownership.

You will also find information on each federal political party’s platforms. Information on how they relate to housing is provided. Be sure to check them out.

It is important to note that in this year’s federal budget, measures were taken to support homeownership. CREA was successful in advocating for increasing the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) withdrawal limits from $25,000 to $35,000, and allowing couples that have gone through a marital split to use their RRSPs to put towards a down payment on a home. This is part of an effort CREA has been working on to make the HBP more flexible in accommodating significant life changes such as a marital breakdown, job relocation or death of a spouse. All of these life-changing events can impact the ability of Canadians and their families to maintain homeownership.

Another homeownership initiative coming out of the 2019 federal budget — which is now being made operational and expanded upon as part of the Liberal’s election proposals — is the First Time Home Buyer Incentive (FTHBI). The FTHBI is a shared equity program administered by CMHC which offers eligible home buyers a new option to consider when looking to achieve their homeownership dreams. 

One of CREA’s election proposals centers on creating increased housing supply to help address the
current supply challenges throughout the country. In doing so, it will help create more balanced housing markets where house prices will be more restrained than the current unabated demand for limited house choices. A good suggestion is to ask all federal parties to work more closely with provincial and municipal governments, where needed, to find solutions to regional housing challenges.

WinnipegREALTORS® has been involved in this issue for many years, and in 2011 developed a well researched discussion paper highlighting challenges and solutions to Manitoba’s rental housing shortages. It was broader than just rental housing, as it also addressed increasing housing supply to alleviate a six-year consecutive string of double-digit MLS® house price increases that occured in the first decade of the new millenium. By creating a healthier housing market for everyone in the housing continuum, you help both renters and homebuyers. Housing affordability was central to the purpose of producing this paper, and currently, housing in our local market is far more affordable and attainable than in other housing markets throughout the country.

Speaking of creating more affordability and housing supply, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) has developed its own federal election website called affordability.ca and is about unlocking the door to homeownership. Up to 94% of Canadians either own a home or want to as per CHBA’s Earnscliffe Strategy Group survey. CREA’s nationwide survey of millennials by Abacus Data shows that 64% of our young people consider housing affordability their top issue for the federal government.

CHBA makes some very good points in putting forward proposals, such as adjusting new mortgage rules to better “strike the right balance between avoiding excessive debt and allowing responsible borrowers to finance what will likely be the biggest asset of their lives and a key part of retirement and financial planning: their home”. CREA speaks about the mortgage stress test as well, with emphasis on making it more regional to better align with local market conditions.

Both CREA and CHBA are on the same page in recommending the federal government bring back
30-year amortizations for insured mortgages for well-qualified first-time buyers. Equifax shows young Canadians represent the lowest risk in terms of mortgage arrears as they are at the beginning of their careers, where incomes rise, with a corresponding drop in their gross debt servicing ratio. This change alone will provide greater flexibility in mortgage choice and lower monthly payments.

Beginning Sunday, Oct. 6, REALTORS® from across Canada will gather in Ottawa to listen to panel discussions, participate in debates and attend workshops focused on the future of housing affordability and how it ties into the current political landscape in both Canada and the U.S.

Representatives from the five main political parties will participate in a housing debate to help kick off the two-day event. For this, CREA has partnered with the Canadian Housing Renewal Association, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness to cover all aspects of the housing spectrum.

Special guests include Nik Nanos, Chair of Nanos Research, who will provide an overview of where each party stands two weeks away from Election Day, and David Frum, a Canadian-American political
commentator who served as the speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Homeownership matters. Ask your federal party candidates where they stand on making it more
affordable and available for Canadians.

Peter Squire is WinnipegREALTORS® Vice-President, External Relations & Market Intelligence.