Unpacking the parties’ platform pledges for Ottawa homeowners, present and future
Supply-side focus from major federal parties has generated nods of approval both from real-estate industry players and observers.
- Author of the article:Taylor BlewettPublishing date:Aug 28, 2021
Maybe you own a home, or maybe you want to, or maybe you’ve written it off as a financial impossibility. After all, the year-to-date average sale price in Ottawa was more than $700,000 as of July, up 30 per cent over 2020, according to Ottawa Real Estate Board data.
From the New Democrats, supply-related proposals target the creation of affordable rental housing, while the Liberals and Conservatives are also focused on getting more homes for purchase on the market.
The Tories say they would require municipalities receiving federal dollars for transit projects to increase density nearby. They’d also review the federal government’s real-estate portfolio and release at least 15 per cent for housing — which could include property, not just existing buildings, Leader Erin O’Toole has said.
From the Liberals, there’s $1 billion promised for rent-to-own projects, which would require participating landlords to commit to charging a renter lower-than-market rent to allow for down-payment savings and to offer ownership within five years. There’s also a plan to invest $4 billion in a “Housing Accelerator Fund” that sets a goal of creating 100,000 “new middle-class homes” by 2024-25 through application-based funding for municipalities.
Supply-side focus from the federal parties has generated nods of approval both from real-estate industry players and observers.
“I would agree that increasing supply is one way to kind of get prices down in this market,” Conference Board of Canada chief economist Pedro Antunes said.
“We’ve seen home prices take off across the country in essence because there’s been a significant lack of new listings, and this crazy demand that has been driving up the markets everywhere, really.”
Whether they’re pledging to “unlock home ownership” (Liberals), “make mortgages more affordable” (Conservatives) or bring “the dream of homeownership” closer to reality for Canadian families (NDP), all three parties have laid out measures targeting housing access or affordability on the buyers’ side.
For the New Democrats, this includes re-introducing 30-year CMHC-insured mortgages “on entry-level homes for first-time home buyers” and doubling the first-time home buyers’ tax credit to $1,500. The Liberals would also do the latter, cut by 25 per cent the mortgage insurance premium charged by CMHC and roll out a $40,000 tax-free “First Home Savings Account.”
The Tories pledge to “encourage a new market” in seven- to 10-year mortgage terms, increase the eligibility limit for mortgage insurance and index it to home price inflation (CMCH doesn’t currently offer it for homes over $1 million), “fix the mortgage stress test to stop discriminating against small business owners, contractors and other non-permanent employees including casual workers” and make it possible to renew a mortgage with another lender without a stress test.
Individual buyers may benefit from one or more of these measures. Thinking about the Ottawa market, Jason Burggraaf, Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association executive director, was most enthusiastic about the NDP’s 30-year mortgage proposal, the Conservative’s stress-test reform for gig workers and the Liberal plan to reduce the price of mortgage insurance.
Others felt less warmly.
“In the past, measures of this kind have helped a fairly small group of families, mostly those already very near the point of being able to buy a home,” said Ricardo Tranjan, a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“These measures don’t address the market forces driving prices up, and some economists fear they could make the problem worse by injecting more money — notably more credit — into an already overheated market.”
FOREIGN INVESTMENT, SPECULATION, HOME BUYERS’ BILL OF RIGHTS
All three platforms also take aim at the spectre of foreign investors and speculators driving up housing prices for everyday Canadians looking for places of their own.
The NDP proposes a 20 per cent tax on the sale of homes to those who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents, while the Conservatives pledge a two-year ban on home purchases by foreign investors not living or moving here. The Liberals would also ban new foreign ownership for two years, with some exceptions, and tax foreign-owned vacant land in large urban areas.
It’s hard to know how much the measures targeting foreign buyers would impact the housing market, the Conference Board’s Antunes said. He noted that in Vancouver and Toronto, where foreign buyers’ taxes have already been applied, home price appreciation ebbed slightly before taking off again.
While acknowledging there’s a dearth of good data, Steve Pomeroy, a housing policy consultant and senior research fellow at Carleton University’s Centre for Urban Research and Education, wasn’t convinced the foreign buyer measures would have a significant impact in Ottawa.
“It’s good politics to buy votes, but that’s about it.”
The Liberals are also pledging an anti-flipping tax on homes sold less than a year after purchase, with exemptions for death, divorce, employment and others changes in life circumstances.
The CCPA’s Tranjan said this could be a meaningful step if it were more strict, given that the process of house-flipping may take longer than a year.
“Given the measure includes exceptions,” he said, “why not impose at least a three-year period to ensure the policy meets its stated objectives?”
The Liberals are also promising a Home Buyer’s Bill of Rights, including measures such as a ban on blind bidding, a legal right to a home inspection and ensuring “total price transparency” on recent sale prices for homes.
But when it comes to all of the parties’ housing pledges, Aaron Wudrick, domestic policy director at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, sees an elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge as long as there are people whose homes are their nest eggs or who will land in hot water if the market takes a turn.
Even if everything being promised by any of the parties was implemented and all of the supply-focused measures were effective and the demand-side policies had no drawbacks, “houses would still be pretty expensive,” Wudrick asserts. “And the prices need to come down.”