DenOuden on the national housing market

The following are excerpts from Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) president Eric DenOuden’s inaugural address at CHBA’s annual conference from May 10 to 12 at St. John’s, Newfoundland.

“The work we do provides jobs for over one-million Canadians, pays almost $60 billion in wages and contributes more than $138 billion to our economy.  Home building, renovation and community development are major economic pillars in every community from coast to coast.

“But beyond this enormous economic benefit, the work we do is fundamentally linked to Canada’s broader competitiveness and success. 

“Governments need to better recognize the strategic role that housing plays in our economic future. Particularly, when they enact policies that impact our ability to deliver the homes Canadians want and need, at a price they can afford to pay. 

“Consider this: When elected leaders talk about Canada’s future economic success, our country’s quality of life is always put forward as a distinct strategic advantage. We are an open and welcoming society, we value the contributions made by newcomers to Canada, and we put emphasis on the importance of attracting the ‘best and the brightest’ from around the world.

“This ‘quality of life’ we so highly value is fundamentally rooted in the quality of our communities — safe,

secure and comfortable cities and towns where people can settle down and raise a family.  And, these cities and towns have always provided those working hard to join the middle-class a decent chance to own a home that meets their family’s needs.

“When CHBA highlights the critical importance of affordability — that’s what we’re talking about. Affordability is the most accurate measure of how well Canada is delivering on our promised ‘quality of life.’

“Let’s be clear. All governments in Canada want our cities to achieve economic success.  When governments talk about strengthening the middle-class, that’s exactly how it needs to happen.  New industry, new businesses, lots of innovation and lots of new jobs that pay well. 

“The piece that needs to be added to that formula is housing affordability and choice, because this is the key to maintaining the quality of life we all see as being so

important to Canada’s future economic success.

“When it comes to affordability, there are a range of policy solutions available to governments, all of which CHBA has been promoting for some time:

•          “The development of a National Housing Strategy by the federal government needs to encompass the full housing continuum, from social housing through to market rental and home ownership. Given that Canada’s ‘quality of life’ is a strategic competitive advantage,

anything less than this will be a missed opportunity.

•          “The funding collaboration between all three levels of government around infrastructure and transit needs to apply a ‘housing lens’ that incorporates affordability as a clear goal.  Particularly in relation to transit investments, there is a pressing need to integrate planning to take advantage of valuable opportunities such as transit-oriented development that can provide the wider range of housing options required to build ‘complete communities’ with a place for everyone, and the means to easily commute and get around.

•          “The compounding taxation of new housing needs to be addressed. Over-taxation of new homes is a huge problem that simply undermines affordability and locks more and more Canadians out of homeownership. Development should pay its fair share, but no more than that.

•          “Similarly, new market housing should not have to pay for social housing.  Supporting those in need is a community responsibility that should be shared by the whole community, not just new home buyers.

•          “And very importantly, we need to make sure that the mortgage system works to support well qualified first-time home buyers getting into their first homes — homeownership has long been the cornerstone of the middle-class, and we need to ensure we have a stable and supportive mortgage system that continues to nurture that.

“These approaches simply make sense given the

key role that affordability and choice play in creating

economically competitive cities. If we want economic success and quality of life, this must be the framework governments apply.

“Given that Canada’s renowned ‘quality of life’ is

a strategic competitive advantage in today’s world, it

follows that housing affordability and choice must play a central role in our future economic success. 

“We need government policy-making to align with this reality. Affordability should not be something governments react to when they sense a crisis. It needs to

be a central goal they pursue, so that such crises don’t occur.

“The challenge is on how to address the legitimate goals of government concerning the future form and composition of our cities, but do so in a far more economically efficient way. What we need is a regulatory regime that is ‘faster, cheaper and delivers better results.’ 

“In saying this, I’m not arguing against the overarching planning goals that governments are putting into place. I’m simply suggesting we need better, and more innovative, ways of reaching these goals. 

“We need approaches that don’t produce the sort of supply/demand imbalances we see in Canada’s most economically successful cities — conditions which

severely impact younger families, and new Canadians, who are striving to achieve a middle-class lifestyle.

“We also need to recognize that the housing markets across Canada are very different. While some are strong, others remain weak. We need policies that will ensure a strong residential construction sector in all parts of the country, and that will ensure well-qualified young Canadians and new Canadians can still attain that key aspect of the middle-class Canadian dream — homeownership.”