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Monday, September 27, 2021

Curb appeal: How the parties’ housing promises stack up

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OTTAWA — Are you a homeowner, or trying to become one? It is no secret that Canada’s real estate market is a bit mind-bending. Housing prices skyrocketed during the pandemic in many communities, which is good news for home owners looking to stay in their places, but bad news for anyone trying to move in next door.

An estimated 36 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 40 –a key cohort of voters— seriously doubt they’ll be able to save up enough to compete in the bidding wars that often stand between buyers and homeownership.

This, coupled with a severe housing shortage, have prompted the main federal parties to make housing commitments a key aspect of their campaigns, seeing the affordability issue as a clear vote-getter.

So, whose plan will have the most curb appeal to voters?

CTVNews.ca breaks down what the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, and Greens have said on housing in this election and how experts have responded to their proposals.

LIBERALS

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised that if re-elected they would:

  • Build, preserve, or repair 1.4 million new homes over the next four years with the intention of increasing supply;
  • Double the first-time home buyers tax credit from $5,000 to $10,000 and put $1 billion towards loans and grants for rent-to-own projects;
  • Create a tax-free ‘First Home Savings Account’ allowing those under the age of 40 to save up to $40,000 and withdraw it tax-free to put towards a home purchase;
  • Introduce a ‘Home Buyers’ Bill of Rights’ that would include measures to criminalize blind bidding and establishing the right to a home inspection; and
  • Impose a ban on new foreign ownership for the next two years.

“If you work hard, if you save, your dream of having your own place should be in reach, but for too many people it just isn’t. And that’s not right. You shouldn’t have to move far away from your job, or school, or family to afford your rent. You shouldn’t lose a bidding war on your home to speculators. It’s time for things to change,” said Trudeau when he announced the policy package on Aug. 24 in Hamilton, Ont.

Though, the opposition parties were quick to question the Liberal plan, suggesting that the national housing strategy embarked on over the last four years has failed in its aim of easing the affordability crunch.

Asked to weigh in on the Liberal plan, Jeff Morrison of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association described it as a “toolkit approach.”

“Given the scope of the crisis that we’re in, I think there’s no question that they needed to go further. And so the plan that they released… that was an attempt to sort of plug holes and look at building on those initiatives,” he said in an interview on CTV News Channel on Aug. 25.

CONSERVATIVES

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has promised that if his party forms the next government they would:

  • Build one million homes over the next three years and release 15 per cent of government-owned real estate for new builds or to convert them into rental properties;
  • Require municipalities receiving federal funding for public transit to increase density near that transit;
  • Incentivizing developers by extending the ability to defer capital gains tax when selling a rental property and reinvesting in rental housing;
  • Encourage a new market in seven-to 10-year mortgages and reduce the need for mortgage stress tests; and
  • Would also impose a ban on new foreign ownership for the next two years.

“The supply of homes to own, as well as to rent, is not keeping up with our growing population. Foreign investors are also making the situation worse. They are bidding up prices and in some cases, they are sitting on their investments and actually leaving homes empty, while Canadians continue to search for affordable homes… Our housing plan is comprehensive and it will be effective. It will give all Canadians a chance to build the life they dream of,” O’Toole said when announcing his housing policies on Aug. 19.

In critiquing their proposals, the Liberals have suggested that the Conservative plan would “give your landlord a tax break.”

“From a building standpoint, a lot of these items really need to be coordinated at the provincial and municipal level, where approvals actually occur, and construction will commence. Certainly the initiatives are good… But a lot more detail and a lot more coordination at the local level needs to certainly be discussed in order for these policies to be effective,” said president of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board Kevin Krieger in an interview on CTV News Channel on Aug. 25.

NEW DEMOCRATS

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has promised that if his party forms the next government they would:

  • Create 500,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years with half of those in place within the first five years;
  • Preserve 1.7 million homes over the next four years;
  • Re-introduce a 30-year term on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation insured mortgages on entry-level homes for first-time home buyers;
  • Double the existing Home Buyer’s Tax Credit to $1,500 and offer $5,000 a year in rent subsidies; and
  • Impose a 20 per cent tax on foreign homebuyers rather than banning those purchases outright.

“We want to get big money out of housing. We know that there are a lot of people that want homes, and that need homes… So we’ve got to invest significantly and seriously to build more homes that are within people’s budgets. We also need to make it more affordable for other people to buy their first home. And we’re confident if you make this a priority, if we tackle it head on, we can ensure that anyone who needs a home can find one that’s in their budget,” Singh said when talking about his plan on Aug. 26.

In criticizing his opponents’ proposals, O’Toole has suggested that the NDP plan won’t make housing more affordable, but generally speaking, little has been said from the other parties about the NDP housing policy.

“The moment we allow people to borrow more, you can understand how that might help an individual… But the moment you allow someone to borrow more, they can then bid up the price of the home. And then when you bid up the price of a home, what do you do? You cause home prices around you to rise, which then hurts those who are following in your footsteps,” said Paul Kershaw of Generation Squeeze, speaking about the concept of allowing buyers to borrow more, or extend mortgage terms, in an interview on CTV News on Aug. 24.

GREENS

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul says her party’s housing priorities include:

  • Focusing on low-income housing by creating at least 300,000 units over the next 10 years;
  • Declaring a national housing and homelessness emergency;
  • Implementing a retroactive residential tenant support benefit;
  • Reworking the mandate of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation towards supporting development of affordable non-profit housing; and
  • Creating a minister of housing to oversee these ideas.

“We also need to make sure that we are strengthening our regulations in order to limit foreign investment, and to end predatory practices in residential real estate. A house is a home. It is not a commodity, it is not there for speculation, it is there first and foremost to be a place that people should live,” said Paul on Aug. 24.

“We have pressures across the housing continuum; from homelessness all the way through to market housing. Everybody in Canada needs a place to call home. And everybody needs a roof over their head, but it’s getting harder and harder every single day to access affordable housing for folks, whether they’re looking for homeownership, or [a] rental, or anything,” said Habitat for Humanity Canada’s Karen Coviello in an interview with CTV News on Aug. 24 about housing becoming a hot election topic.

THE TAKEAWAY:

While the focus on housing in this election has excited affordability advocates who have been imploring political leaders to take seriously the squeeze being felt by first-time buyers, some have questioned whether any of the measures proposed will meaningfully reduce housing prices.

Experts have noted that while so-called foreign buyer bans can help drive down the cost of housing, in British Columbia where the policy has been in place for years, it hasn’t solved the affordability issue.

And, without a considerable increase in the supply of homes available, population growth will continue and the problem of demand outstripping supply will persist.

“Just imagine an escalator going down really quickly. The parties are running faster than ever to try and make housing better, but it’s not clear yet that they stopped the escalator from going down too quickly… And until we say: ‘We need that home prices to stall, let’s slow down this escalator,’ only then can our other measures really take hold and help to fix this housing affordability crisis for generations of younger Canadians and newcomers to our country,” said Kershaw.

If you enjoyed this piece, you should sign up for our subscriber-only Election Dispatch newsletter for a brief but comprehensive daily update from the campaign trail.

With files from CTV News’ Ryan Flanagan and a report from Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier.

Edited by Adam Ward.

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