Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau outlined his party’s plan to make it easier to buy a home across the country, vowing anew to address a housing affordability crisis that has grown since he came to office.
It was only four years ago that the Liberals unveiled a sweeping housing strategy designed to boost supply and help drive down costs for families.
The strategy was expanded in ensuing years, valued at tens of billions of dollars.
What the Liberals unveiled Tuesday would tweak programs aimed at first-time homebuyers, including one to help offset the cost of a mortgage that the government recently expanded because of low take-up in some of the hottest housing markets in the country.
It would deal with a lack of supply in the housing market, but also potentially fuel demand that has already risen through the pandemic, sending house prices soaring.
Trudeau defended his government’s existing national housing strategy, which the parliamentary budget officer earlier this month described as having limited impact, saying the announcement of changes and additions wasn’t a sign of any shortcoming.
“Anyone out there promising that they can fix the housing crisis (quickly), doesn’t understand the housing crisis, or doesn’t have a real plan to do it. They’re just trying to sell you something,” Trudeau said near a housing development where home prices can reach $1 million.
“That’s why we’ve created a very ambitious, but multi-faceted plan that responds in tangible ways to make sure that people have better options.”
He strained to be heard at times as one heckler chided the prime minister for perceived inaction on housing prices since taking office in late 2015, another criticized him over the handling of evacuations in Afghanistan, and another on mandatory vaccinations for travellers.
The housing plan the Liberals laid out would build, renovate, or protect 1.4 million homes, although the party didn’t provide a breakdown of that figure.
It then provides about $1 billion in loans and grants to help develop rent-to-own projects with an array of partners, creating a pathway to home ownership for renters in five years or less.
The party is also promising to create what they’re calling a First Home Savings Account, where those under 40 could save up to $40,000 and withdraw it tax-free for a down payment with no requirement to repay.
The idea is similar to the homebuyer-savings plan Pierre Trudeau introduced in 1975 that research suggests aided the move from renting to homeownership, but which was largely driven by higher-income households before the Mulroney government cancelled the program in 1985.
Trudeau also pledged to expand an existing tax credit for first-time buyers and reduce by 25 per cent the cost of mortgage insurance from the federal housing agency.
The plan also includes a Housing Accelerator Fund, which would make $4 billion available to help large cities speed up their housing plans, with a target of 100,000 new “middle-class” homes by 2025, and some funding to cities in the plan available on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities welcomed the proposal, and the push by all parties to address housing affordability.
The 2017 national housing strategy was supposed to ease the affordability crunch, but a scathing report this month from the parliamentary budget officer said that despite ramping up spending, the government was falling short of its aim to vastly expand Canada’s affordable housing stock.
Yves Giroux also projected that the number of households in need of an adequate or affordable place to live would increase to about 1.8 million within five years unless more funding flowed towards the problem.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking in Mississauga, Ont., said housing conditions have worsened during Trudeau’s time as prime minister: “If he cared about it, wouldn’t the housing crisis not be here?”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Trudeau has had years to enact those housing policies and has “failed.”
“He has had programs that have been ineffective in terms of affordable housing, in terms of programs for first-time homebuyers,” O’Toole said in Ottawa.
“We have a serious plan to tackle a serious crisis for our country and after six years of inaction from Mr. Trudeau, more hollow words today is not what Canadians deserve.”
Green Leader Annamie Paul was speaking Tuesday about affordable housing in the Toronto Centre riding in which she is running. The median income is $39,000 while the average one-bedroom rent is $2,300, she said.
“So you do the math and tell me how people are going to manage to make ends meet,” she said.
“This is something that is a failure. It is something that has gotten worse and we know that the situation has been exacerbated during the pandemic.”
Trudeau also promised a “bill of rights” for homeowners that would ban blind bidding, enshrine a legal right to an inspection, ban foreign buyers for two years as the Conservatives have also promised, and an anti-flipping tax on residential properties.
He suggested the government has the tools to enforce the proposed set of rules and prevent predatory and speculative practices.