CMHC says policy should tackle supply not demand

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has published a new report on housing affordability in Canada’s biggest cities but admits it doesn’t have all the answers.

The agency found that escalating house prices are mainly driven by strong economic and population growth, and low mortgage rates; with Toronto and Vancouver lagging on the supply side.

While the two hottest markets showed large and persistent price increases during the analysis period of 2010-2016, Montreal saw only modest growth and the oil-dependent Calgary and Edmonton markets gained slightly.

Vancouver led the gains over the 6 year period with a 48% rise in house prices with population and disposable income rises, and low mortgage rates, accounting for almost 75% of that rise.

House prices increased by 40% in Toronto over the same time period with 40% of the rise being explained by conventional economic factors.

These price increases have tended to be for single-family homes rather than condo apartments. Supply of condos has been proportionately greater than for single-family homes.

“Large Canadian centres like Toronto and Vancouver are increasingly behaving like world-class cities,” said Aled ab Iorwerth, CMHC’s deputy chief economist. “Their strong local economies and historically low interest rates make them attractive to both people and industry which drives up demand for housing. When you have weak supply responses, as you do in these markets, prices have nowhere to go but up.

Although investor demand for condos has increased the rental supply, CMHC says that they tend to be more expensive than purpose-built rentals.

The report also highlights that measures to address the supply challenges are “more likely to have positive impacts than measures focused on the demand side.”

“While it is true that the supply response in Toronto and Vancouver has been significantly weaker than in other Canadian metropolitan areas, we do not fully know why this is the case,” said Evan Siddall, CMHC’s president and CEO. There continues to be data gaps and we need to work more closely with jurisdictions at all levels to fully understand what is happening.”

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