Critics call out a lack of measures in the federal budget to push down the high cost of housing

Critics call out a lack of measures in the federal budget to push down the high cost of housing

When Monica Moore went home shopping in 2020, she knew she wouldn't be able to afford a house in Vancouver.

The product designer, now 28, considers herself lucky. With some financial help from her parents, she was able to purchase a two-bedroom condo in North Vancouver, where she now lives with her husband.

But even though she recently commanded a salary well over $200,000 a year — putting her near the top one per cent of earners in Canada — she said she feels she still can't afford a house in the Greater Vancouver Area. Canadian Real Estate Association data indicates the average price for a detached home in the GVA approaches $2 million.

"Being near the top income earners in Canada, the fact that I wouldn't be able to afford a house ... then who's supposed to be affording these homes? It just doesn't add up," Moore said.

Moore said she worries the lack of affordable housing may limit the size of her family in the future. She said many of her friends plan not to have children for the same reason.

It's an issue that's affected her view of the Trudeau government. She said she'd like to see Ottawa put pressure on municipalities to boost the housing supply.

"I'm sick of them just catering to Boomers who bought a house in way back and are now sitting on two, three, five million dollars of property, and they don't want to see that go down," she said.

"I think some sacrifices need to be made there."

Moore isn't the only one. Many industry players, experts and advocates have expressed disappointment in the lack of measures in the recent federal budget to address the high cost of housing.

What's in the budget on housing

The budget acknowledges that a lack of affordable housing in Canada is having a negative effect on the Canadian economy.

"For too many Canadians, including young people and new Canadians, the dream of owning a home is increasingly out of reach, and paying rent has become more expensive across the country," the budget document says.

"This is undermining the financial stability of an entire generation of Canadians."

But the budget mostly highlights previously announced measures on housing and housing affordability.

The most notable among them is the new tax-free First Home Savings Account (FHSA), which the budget said would launch on April 1, 2023. The account works like a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and allows first-time home buyers — or those who have not purchased a home in the previous four years — to make tax-deductible contributions and tax-free withdrawals to purchase a home.

Those eligible can save up to $40,000 toward a home purchase, with a maximum annual contribution of $8,000 over five years.

The budget did announce one housing measure: an additional $4 billion over seven years, starting in 2024-25, for the development of an Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.

The government also made a number of changes the day before the budget to new rules that restrict and penalize foreign ownership of real estate in Canada.

Certain non-Canadians in the country on work visas can now purchase residential property. The changes also allow foreigners and foreign companies to buy vacant land and buy properties zoned for residential and mixed use if they intend to develop them.

The Canada Revenue Agency also announced it would waive late penalties and interest fees on the government's new tax on Canadian properties owned by those residing outside of the country. The tax is set at one per cent of the property's value and is set to increase gradually — but there is a large range of exemptions, including for seasonal properties.

Nemoy Lewis, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University's School of Urban and Regional Planning, called the budget's approach to affordable housing "lackluster." He said he'd like to see all levels of government work more closely with each other to build more housing — especially for society's most vulnerable.

"I think that we need to invest in non-profit developers and non-profit housing agencies to ensure that housing truly remains housing, not for the purposes of profits, but for the purposes of providing folks with adequate, affordable and secure housing in perpetuity," Lewis said.

Submitted by Nemoy Lewis
Submitted by Nemoy Lewis

RE/MAX Canada president Christopher Alexander agreed that the federal government needs to work with provinces and municipalities on boosting supply. He said he's seen no indication a plan to do so is coming.

"We've been saying for several years now that it has to be a concerted effort ... I just don't think anybody understands the gravity of our inventory challenges," Alexander said.

The government has announced it wants to welcome a record 465,000 new immigrants to Canada this year, in part to address labour shortages. But experts have raised concerns about the effect of accelerated immigration on housing demand and supply.

Alexander said many building trades are still looking at shortfalls despite an increase in skilled immigrants.

"With everybody coming to the country, and a projected labour shortage, I just think we need a better, three-level of government plan," he said. "We really need building capacity to increase."

Penny Gurstein, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and co-director of UBC's Housing Research Collaborative, said the big problem is a shortage of social housing.

"If we keep on ignoring the fact that there's such a lack of affordable housing out there, it's just going to get worse," she said. "It's affecting our economy significantly already in major cities."

Gurstein said it's notable that even Scotiabank is criticizing the government on housing supply.

"In a broader public policy sense, Ottawa's housing strategy remains confusing," David Holt, the bank's vice president and head of capital markets economics, wrote in a budget reaction report.

"The feds have thrown open the immigration doors into a market with no supply while another tax subsidy to housing starts up on Saturday in the form of the first-time homebuyers tax-free home savings account."

Lewis added that the government has not provided an update to a study announced last year about the role played by financial speculators in the housing sector.

"These particular entities continue to acquire large sums of units in urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver, and continue to take away the last remaining stock," he said.

Minister of Housing Ahmed Hussen's office did not respond to CBC News' request for comment.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defending his government's approach to housing. He pointed to his government's development of a National Housing Strategy to address housing issues in the country.

"The reality is that no government has done more on housing than us," Trudeau told a news conference.

"We've ensured that millions of Canadians have access to new homes over the past years. We have moved forward last year with $10 billion dollars in investments in housing that are being rolled out right now across the country."

Opposition critics slam government on housing

Earlier this week, the City of Mississauga rejected two proposed residential tower developments.

Conservative housing critic Scott Aitchison has said that if his party forms the next government, cities that block housing projects will be excluded from federal infrastructure funding.

He said it's an idea the Liberal government should adopt.

"We're calling on this government to take a full operation approach. Pull out every stop. In a crisis, you pull out every stop. We need to tie federal infrastructure dollars to getting things done faster in cities," Aitchison said Wednesday.

Aitchison accused the government of not taking the housing problem seriously.

"I think the problem with the government is they don't understand the situation that we're in in this country," he said.

"It is, in fact, a crisis. The minister doesn't get that."

WATCH | 'Canadians can't afford this government,' says MP:

In his remarks Friday, Trudeau criticized the Conservatives' approach to municipalities and housing. He mentioned the government's Housing Accelerator Fund, which aims at providing incentives for municipalities to build and approve more housing. It's set to launch later this year.

"The Conservatives, on the other hand, have continued to pick fights with municipalities, continue to threaten them when everybody knows that solving housing challenges means working together to be there for Canadians," Trudeau said.

Jenny Kwan, the NDP's housing critic, said she's seen the effects of a lack of secure and affordable housing in her Vancouver East riding.

"I'm very disappointed with the budget on addressing the housing crisis," she said. "Effectively, the Liberal government just didn't show up for it."

Kwan said the NDP wants the government to build at least 500,000 social and co-op housing units, among other measures.

She added she's pleased to see funding for the Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy, but said the dollar amount is inadequate.

"The urgent and unmet needs for Indigenous peoples are significant." she said. "The resources won't flow until 2024-25. Meanwhile, people are unhoused right now. Meanwhile, people are living in mouldy housing conditions, in overcrowded housing conditions, and the detrimental effects of all of that is severe."