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Housing

Trudeau’s 2024 budget could drive out investment as housing bubble continues

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From LifeSiteNews

By David James

The extent to which the Canadian economy is distorted by a property bubble can be seen by comparing government debt with household debt, with the latter being 130 percent of GDP, nearly twice as much as American households.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government has brought in its 2024 budget, which projects C$53 billion in new spending over the next 5 years. It includes a significant capital gains tax increase, which some are warning will drive away investment, and a plan for more government-controlled public housing.

The Trudeau government is wrestling with a problem that is afflicting most English-speaking economies: how to deal with the consequences of a 20-year house price bubble that has led to deep social divisions, especially between baby boomers and people under 40. 

House prices have tripled over the last 20 years on average, fuelled by the combination of aggressive bank lending and, until recently, falling interest rates. Neither is directly controlled by the federal government. There is no avenue to restrict how much banks lend and the Bank of Canada sets interest rates independently.

Accordingly, the Trudeau government is left to tinker at the edges. It will legislate an increase, from one half to two-thirds, in the share of capital gains subject to taxation for annual investment profits greater than C$250,000. The change will apply to individuals, companies and trusts.

Christina Freeland, Canada’s minister for finance, claimed improbably that only 0.13 percent of Canadians with an average income of $1.42 million are expected to pay more income tax on their capital gains in any given year. 

That is a dubious forecast. The average house price in Canada 20 years ago was C$241,000; it is now C$719,000. Any Canadians who bought an investment property (family homes are exempt) before about 2015 are likely to have a capital gain larger than C$250,000 should they sell. 

The government’s claim that the change will only affect a tiny proportion of Canada’s population is also belied by the government’s own forecast that the tax change will raise over C$20 billion over five years.

The extent to which the Canadian economy is distorted by a property bubble can be seen by comparing government debt with household debt. Canada’s government debt is fairly modest by current international standards: 67.8 percent of GDP in March 2023, down from 73 percent in the previous year. That is about half the U.S. government debt and half the average for G7 countries. 

Canada’s budget deficit is also cautious by Western standards. In 2023-24 it was C$40 billion, equivalent to 1.4 percent of GDP. The U.S. budget deficit is currently over 6 percent of GDP.

Investors account for 30 percent of home buying in Canada, and about one in five properties is owned by an investor. Worse, the enthusiasm for property investment seems to be intensifying. According to one survey, 23 percent of Canadians who do not own a residential investment property say that they are likely to purchase one in the next five years, and 51 percent of current investors say that they are likely to purchase an additional residential investment property within the same time frame.

The problem with the bias towards property investment is that it is actually a punt on land values – and land is inherently unproductive. Business groups have criticized the government’s capital gains hike as a disincentive for investment and innovation, but the far bigger issue is investors’ focus on property, which is crowding out interest in other kinds of investments. 

That means the main source investment capital for businesses will tend to come from institutions, such as mutual funds, which typically have a global, rather than local, orientation.

Faced with forces largely out of its control, the Trudeau government is fiddling at the edges. It has announced the introduction of what it calls “Canada’s Housing Plan”, which is aimed at unlocking over 3.8 million homes by 2031. Two million are expected to be new homes, with the government contributing to more than half of them. This will be done by converting underused federal offices into homes, building homes on Canada Post properties, redeveloping National Defence lands, creating more loans for building apartments in Ottawa, and looking at taxing vacant land.  

The initiatives may have some effect on supply and demand, but the property price excesses are mainly a financial problem caused by unrestrained bank lending that has been fuelled by low interest rates. When a correction does occur, it will most likely be because of changed global financial conditions, not government policy or fiscal changes. 

There are other measures that could be taken to address the property bubble such as reducing, or removing, negative gearing or more heavily taxing capital gains only on property but not other types of investments. But these policies would no doubt would be politically unsalable, so the Trudeau government is instead making minor changes, probably hoping that the problem will fix itself.

Economy

Federal government’s turbo-charged immigration helping drive housing demand

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jock Finlayson

Unusually brisk population growth is putting considerable strain on public services and infrastructure, in part because the federal government did essentially nothing to plan or prepare for the dramatic surge in immigration that its own policies sanctioned.

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, Canada’s population has just hit the level it was previously expected to reach in 2028. That startling finding underscores the extraordinary growth of the country’s population since the pandemic, driven by record inflows of both permanent and “temporary” immigrants.

A rapidly expanding population can bring some benefits, notably by stimulating overall economic activity and providing additional workers. But it’s not an alloyed good. The number of Canadian residents is increasing faster than economic output (gross domestic product), which has translated into an unprecedented series of declines in per-person GDP over the last several quarters. Productivity is stagnant, as newcomers struggle to find their way in the economy and job market. In addition, a significant share of new immigrants don’t seek or obtain employment, dampening immigration’s contribution to the growth of economic output.

Meanwhile, unusually brisk population growth is putting considerable strain on public services and infrastructure, in part because the federal government did essentially nothing to plan or prepare for the dramatic surge in immigration that its own policies sanctioned. The “downstream” challenge of managing the pressures flowing from turbo-charged immigration falls mainly to provinces and municipalities, not faraway Ottawa.

All of this has implications for the hottest issue in Canadian politics today—housing affordability and supply. Like the rest of us, newcomers need a place to live. Immigration is the predominant source of incremental housing demand in much of the country, particularly big cities. Demand for housing also comes from the existing Canadian population, as young adults establish separate households, marriages dissolve, and people move to other communities or neighbourhoods for work, education or to retire.

Unfortunately, homebuilding has been running far behind what’s necessary to accommodate immigration, let alone meet the demand from household formation among current residents. In 1972, when the population stood at 22 million, roughly 220,000 new homes were added to the Canadian housing stock. In 2023, with a population of 40 million, housing starts were only a little higher than half a century ago.

This brings us to the Trudeau government’s multi-faceted housing plan, rolled out over the past year and finalized with great fanfare in the 2024 federal budget. The government has pledged to somehow build 3.9 million new homes by 2031—just seven years from now. This is equivalent to 550,00 housing starts per year. It’s an aspirational target, but also a patently unrealistic one.

The federal government has little control over what happens in the towns, cities and provinces where most of the policy and regulatory decisions affecting homebuilding and community development are made. Moreover, the Canadian construction sector doesn’t have the spare human resources or organizational capacity to quickly double housing starts. Even today, the construction sector’s “job vacancy rate” is higher than the all-industry average.

The year 2021 marked an all-time record for Canadian housing starts at 270,000. Starts fell over 2022-23, amid higher interest rates. This year, RBC Economics projects housing starts of 251,000, rising to 273,000 in 2025. To put it mildly, these figures are inconsistent with Ottawa’s ambitious plan to deliver 550,00 new homes per year.

We’ll likely see more and faster homebuilding over the next few years, as governments at all levels direct more money and political attention to housing. But a doubling of housing starts simply won’t occur within the Trudeau government’s politically manufactured timeline. One thing seems certain—Canada’s housing “crisis” will continue to fester.

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Economy

Toronto, Vancouver named “Impossibly Unaffordable”

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Courtney Greenberg

Two Canadian cities — Toronto and Vancouver — have earned the title of “impossibly unaffordable” in a new report.

“There has been a considerable loss of housing affordability in Canada since the mid-2000s, especially in the Vancouver and Toronto markets,” according to the Demographia International Housing Affordability report, which is released annually.

“During the pandemic, the increase in remote work (working at home) fuelled a demand increase as many households were induced to move from more central areas to suburban, exurban and even more remote areas. The result was a demand shock that drove house prices up substantially, as households moved to obtain more space, within houses and in yards or gardens.”

Vancouver was the least affordable market in Canada, and the third least affordable out of all of the 94 markets observed in the report. The West Coast city’s affordability issue has “troublingly” spread to smaller areas like Chilliwack, the Fraser Valley, Kelowna, and markets on Vancouver Island, per the report.

Toronto was named as the second least affordable market in Canada. However, it fared slightly better than Vancouver when it came to the other markets, ranking 84 out of 94 in international affordability.

“As in Vancouver, severely unaffordable housing has spread to smaller, less unaffordable markets in Ontario, such as Kitchener-cambridge-waterloo, Brantford, London, and Guelph, as residents of metro Toronto seek lower costs of living outside the Toronto market,” the report says.

The findings of the report have “grave implications on the prospects for upward mobility,” said Joel Kotkin, the director at the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University, a co-publisher of the report along with Canada’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

“As with any problem, the first step towards a resolution should be to understand the basic facts,” he said. “This is what the Demographia study offers.”

The report looked at housing affordability in 94 metropolitan areas in Australia, China, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. The data analyzed was taken from September 2023. The ratings are based on five categories (affordable, moderately unaffordable, seriously unaffordable, severely unaffordable, and impossibly unaffordable) with a points system to classify each area.

The report determined affordability by calculating the median price-to-income ratio (“median multiple”) in each market.

“There is a genuine need to substantially restore housing affordability in many markets throughout the covered nations,” said Frontier Centre for Public Policy president Peter Holle, in a statement. “In Canada, policymakers are scrambling to ‘magic wand’ more housing but continue to mostly ignore the main reason for our dysfunctional costly housing markets — suburban land use restrictions.”

Toronto and Vancouver both received the worst possible rating for affordability, making them stand out as the most expensive Canadian cities in which to buy a home. However, other Canadian markets — like Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa-gatineau — stood out as well. They were considered “severely unaffordable.”

“This is a long time coming,” senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives David Macdonald told CTV News.

“We haven’t been building enough housing, we certainly haven’t had enough government investment in affordable housing for decades, and the chickens are coming home to roost.”

The most affordable Canadian city in the report was Edmonton, which was given a rating of “moderately unaffordable.” The city in Alberta was “at least twothirds more affordable” than Vancouver.

Overall, Canada ranked third in home ownership compared to the other regions observed in the report. The highest home ownership rate was in Singapore, at 89 per cent, followed by Ireland, at 70 per cent. In Canada, the rate was 67 per cent.

First published in the National Post here, June 17, 2024.

Courtney Greenberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist writing for the National Post.

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