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What is in the Liberal housing strategy?

by Corben Grant on 04 May 2022

With the election behind us and a newly formed agreement with the federal NDP, it is apparent that Justin Trudeau's Liberal party will remain in power until at least 2025. Between then and now, they have a tough challenge in seeing Canada through the recovery phase from the pandemic on top of the difficulty that comes with governing even in the best of times.

One thing that almost all voters have agreed on in recent years is that there is clearly a housing issue in Canada. All major parties in the recent election released comprehensive plans of how they would combat the issue, which formed a major part of their election promises. Ultimately, the Liberals took the win and we now many Canadians have high expectations for how the re-elected Liberal government plans to tackle housing issues.

Though we are still in the early days of a new housing policy, there has been a lot of information released on what the party plans to do in coming years to help ease the housing market. In this article, we will cover the Liberal housing strategy and offer some notes on how proposed changes will work – or how they may not.

The overview

On the page outlining the Liberal housing plan, the party outlines the three key goals that drive their proposed policies. These goals are a great way to begin understanding the types of changes proposed under the Liberal government, however, they also attempt to sum up much larger and complicated issues so they can come off as a bit vague.

The first is to "unlock homeownership." According to the plan, Canadians are having more and more difficulty achieving homeownership, particularly younger Canadians. The party points to issues like rising rents and the cost of living, making it harder for young Canadians to save a down payment. Their overall mission is to turn renters into homeowners by making saving easier and reducing closing costs on home purchases.

The second listed goal is to build more homes. Making homes more affordable and accessible is great, but if you don't have enough homes for all the new people entering the market, it will only make the issue worse. In particular, they highlight the need for middle-class housing as well as homes for various groups that may traditionally face difficulties in finding housing such as women in crisis, people with disabilities, and the elderly. They have also proposed to renovate and improve existing homes as well as potentially convert empty office space into rental housing.

Finally, the third goal vows to protect the rights of buyers and homeowners. This section is a bit vague, but it essentially means that the party proposes to make home purchases more accessible by reducing "unfair, predatory, high-pressure tactics that take advantage of prospective buyers'' and limit the influence of "profiteers, wealthy corporations, and foreign investors'' on the market.

Now that you have an idea of the general goals, let's look at some of the proposed changes in the Liberal plan in more detail and how they may serve to accomplish these goals.

Changes on the way

Home Buyers Bill of Rights

The Liberals have often talked about a Home Buyer's Bill of Rights that would set in place many fundamental rights for homebuyers in order to make purchases fairer.

One inclusion in this proposed bill would be to ban blind bidding, a practice that some have said allows for price inflation while others question its impact. They would also make it a legal right to get a home inspection on a purchase. This would protect buyers in hot markets who have often been forced to forgo any such conditions when purchasing, resulting in costly surprises.

Other changes would include ensuring price transparency for recent house sale prices, creating a national beneficial ownership registry, and requiring mortgage lenders to offer deferrals in some specific life circumstances.

Limits on foreign buyers

There have been concerns in recent years that foreign speculation in the Canadian housing market has driven prices up for Canadian citizens. In order to combat this, the government has proposed a near-total ban on foreign home purchases for up to two years.

The recent budget release has reaffirmed this commitment and it seems likely that a ban is imminent. This could reduce competition for homes and, with it, some of the upward price pressure, though critics point out that the issue of foreign buyers is often greatly overstated and that domestic buyers are much larger contributors to price issues.

The government previously put in place a tax on foreign-owned vacant housing and also plans to extend this to foreign-owned vacant land.

Housing accelerator fund

The housing accelerator fund is a proposed program to help increase housing supply in Canadian cities. The fund would help municipalities to develop new housing supply much faster than their average speed through various means of support. Under this plan, the Liberals aim to create 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2025. By increasing supply, the government can help to reduce competition among buyers that drives up prices. The focus on cities also allows the fund to focus on areas where both population and price growth are high.

Rapid Housing Initiative

The Rapid Housing Initiative is a program delivered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as part of their National Housing Strategy. It is designed to build thousands of affordable housing units across the country. The plan was for the initiative to last just 2 years, though the Liberal government has now expressed plans to continue the plan for an additional year.

Rental Construction Financing Initiative

The Rental Construction Financing Initiative is a program designed to offer low cost loans to developers in order to encourage the creation of more rental units. In the past, this program has been successful in creating more rental units, however, the affordability of these units has been called into question, often charging higher rents than the market average. As part of the new agreement with the NDP, the government intends to refocus this initiative on producing more affordable housing units.

Tax-Free First Home Savings Account

The Liberals plan to introduce a new registered savings account known as the Tax-Free First Home Savings Account which would allow Canadians to save up to $40,000 for a first home purchase with $8,000 yearly contributions. This would help to reduce the tax burdens on prospective buyers and make saving for a down payment faster. But, it also most effectively benefits Canadians who make enough to save $8,000 a year while lower earners who struggle to save will still encounter difficulty in working towards homeownership.

Final thoughts

As with any political proposal, there are voices on both sides arguing for the viability of these changes. Overall, the plan avoids banking its success on a single change and offers a variety of different approaches to this issue which should overall improve its viability. Luckily, our policy is also able to develop and react to things that are found to be ineffective so the plan may well be refined over time.

These are ultimately just proposals and any changes will need to be well debated before entering into law.

It’s unfortunate that a party that has been in power for almost 10 years is only now taking such a hard stance on housing issues as we are now in a critical period that may not offer us the benefit of taking our time to see how things work out, nor do we have the time to wait and see if these changes are actually put in place or become just another election promise that never materializes.

Ultimately, we will have to wait and see how effective these changes are. Being such a hot topic for Canadians, there is a lot of pressure on the federal government and a high incentive to deliver results.



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