It’s been two years since the Liberals vowed to tackle the housing crisis, but the arrival of Ottawa’s national housing strategy will likely provide little relief for Canadians chasing skyrocketing prices in the major markets.
The long-awaiting housing plan will be released Wednesday — on national housing day — and the focus appears to be more on affordable housing for low-income Canadians and less on housing affordability in the major markets.
“I doubt this will be a major game changer for people looking for a house,” Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC, told BNN in an interview.
“The major focus will be on social housing.”
That view is consistent with what Canadians have been hearing from Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who was tasked by the prime minister in November 2015 with finding solutions to what plagues housing.
“At the centre of our long-term plan is a focus on the most vulnerable, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Duclos wrote in the Toronto Star in May.
And a report from The Canadian Press suggests funding for at least 80,000 new affordable housing units and a rental benefit for low-income families struggling in the private market are among the centerpieces of the strategy.
“That’s good to hear,” said Jane Londerville, a retired associate professor from the University of Guelph who co-authored a paper this month for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute on the national housing strategy.
“I’m a big advocate for housing for low-income households.”
At the same time, “we’ve heard very little about the market side of housing.”
In the paper, Londerville and co-author Sean Speer warned that a “singular focus on social housing will neglect the principal housing concern for most Canadians, which is whether they can afford a home that meets their need.”
That said, Londerville told BNN in a telephone interview she “would be surprised” if Ottawa’s strategy put any substantial focus on the market side of real estate.
While many of the issues plaguing Canadian real estate fall to provinces and cities, there is a role for the federal government.
“Without too much cost, you can tweak things and make home ownership more affordable,” said Londerville.
One idea floated in the Macdonald-Laurier Institute report is a pilot-program in which potential homebuyers would use a Tax-Free Savings Account to save for a home — and receive “some type of match” from the government.
“This idea is not totally far-fetched,” the authors argue in the paper, pointing to Registered Education Savings Plans as an example.
“These funds would accumulate on a tax-free basis until they were large enough to provide a 20-per-cent down payment on a house.”
Tackling home affordability will require “creative” approaches, said Tal, who has argued supply is the most pressing concern.
When asked why Ottawa is more focused on affordable housing for low-income Canadians than housing affordability in the market, Tal simply replied: “That’s where public policy is most effective.”