by Peter Squire
Political Action Committee (PAC) Days is a time once a year when REALTORS® from across our vast and diverse country convene in Ottawa to meet with their MPs. They come with a common purpose — to ask MPs to get
behind CREA proposals which are well thought out, evidence-based, and important to Canadians.
CREA is one of Canada’s largest single-industry associations, with a membership of more than 125,000 real
estate brokers, agents and salespeople working with provincial real estate associations and real estate boards.
Brandon Realtor Michael Barrett, who serves this year as CREA’s chair of the Federal Affairs Committee, welcomed over 300 delegates to the three-day event held in early October. Here is what he had to say in his welcome address to fellow PAC reps:
“In virtually every town and city, Realtors are well known as business owners and community builders who are actively involved in making our communities stronger, and supporting important causes and charities with our time, money and passion. When we gather together as a profession, we show that we are also critical drivers of the Canadian economy, responsible for over $31 billion in economic activity each year. When our industry does well, so does Canada. Most importantly, so do Canadians.”
Under the theme protecting homeownership, two recommendations were put forward this year to present to MPs in meetings with their constituent Realtor.
The first recommendation is all about helping Canadians reach their goals, and one that has always been near and dear to them is homeownership. The first recommendation targets first-time buyers who are especially challenged by more stringent mortgage requirement rules, and in Manitoba’s case, receive no exemption on the significant land transfer tax they are required to pay as part of their closing costs when buying a home.
Federal government policies and regulations have made accessibility to housing in Canada increasingly difficult for middle-class families and millennials. The dream of homeownership continues to be strong among millennials, but affordability is often out of reach. Many potential home buyers struggle to accumulate enough capital for a down payment, yet have an income stream that would allow them to manage monthly mortgage payments.
Providing financial support to help Canadians fulfill their homeownership goals and start building equity is critical at a time when house prices are at a record high across the country.
The Home Buyers’ Tax Credit (HBTC) is an existing program that helps compensate for some of the costs associated with a home purchase. However, the HBTC needs to be enhanced in order to reflect the current costs facing home buyers in Canada more accurately.
We propose an increase to the existing tax credit to help first-time home buyers. An enhanced HBTC would provide meaningful assistance and enable more Canadians to enter the housing market.
We recommend the $750 non-refundable tax credit
be replaced with a $2,500 non-refundable tax credit per qualifying home for first-time home buyers.
CREA, in bringing this recommendation forward to MPs this year, did an extensive national survey this spring on millennials aged 18 to 38. Its resounding results showed 86% of millennials who don’t own a home want to, and 68% are passionate about it. Moreover, 54% of millennials say it has become more difficult to buy a house in the past year, and 41% say the federal government has made it more difficult for people to buy a home in Canada.
And not to be ignored by any federal party preparing for next year’s election, 64% of respondents in this survey of 2,500 millennials said the government should focus on ensuring housing is affordable as either a top or very high priority.
As David Coletto of Abacus Data said to delegates at PAC Days in his presentation of the millennial survey he conducted, “the dream of owning a home is alive and well”.
The second recommendation speaks to evaluating
policies that affect homeownership.
We acknowledge there is no simple strategy to make homeownership more accessible in some of Canada’s most active markets. However, we are concerned that
certain federal government policies designed to cool these markets have had a negative impact on the homeownership goals of many Canadians outside of those markets.
The federal government should take regional differences into consideration when implementing nation-wide measures that affect home buyers. In particular, the “stress test” has had unintended consequences in many balanced markets across the country, and driven millennials and middle-class families in stable markets further away from reaching their goal of owning a home.
These measures should be applied only in those markets the government has identified as requiring an intervention. There is precedent for national programs being tailored to address regional socio-economic factors. There are regional applications of the Employment Insurance Program that reflect the realities of local and regional
labour and employment markets.
We recommend further coordination in housing
related policies between the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), Finance Canada, the Bank of Canada and Statistics Canada. We also recommend that all levels of governments should engage in dialogue to gain a clear understanding of the impact any new measures could have on homeowners and home buyers.
We recommend evaluating policies that affect homeownership in Canada, including a review of the “one-size-fits-all” nature of policies that impact housing markets across the country.
Many housing markets across the country including Winnipeg’s are being negatively impacted by the federal government stress test. On a year-to-date basis, sales activity has declined in 2018 versus 2017 in 75 local markets with sales down more than 10% in 50 local markets. Winnipeg’s September monthly result shows a decrease of 12% in comparison to September 2017 and are down nearly 7% year-to-date.
Another point in this regard is found in a report by Mortgage Professionals Canada from July 2018 that
estimates approximately 100,000 Canadians have been prevented from buying a home since late 2016 because of new federal mortgage rules.
WinnipegREALTORS® submitted a strong position paper to the federal government when they asked for input on development of their national housing strategy, and we made it clear that all housing markets are local and the “one-size-fits-all” approach will not work. Of course, they did not realize to what extent the collateral damage would be on housing markets that did not need federal government intervention.
Realtors will continue to press for change to the current mortgage requirement regime as they feel the intention of the federal government and regulators such as OSFI was never to deny thousands of Canadians the opportunity to own a home when there was no justification to do so.
Portions of this article were originally published on October 5, 2018