When looking at the results, Canadians may assume that not much changed between the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. But when it comes to housing issues, a lot did change.
Housing was top of mind for voters and political parties with unprecedented urgency, and was covered extensively in the media. One of the biggest and most positive changes was the acknowledgement that there is a difference between housing affordability (which is about market-rate housing) and affordable (social) housing, with discussion and concerted efforts by all main parties to address affordability in market-rate housing. Affordable housing and housing affordability are both important, but both need different measures to address them. If we are going to properly support the next generation to be able to own their own homes, market-rate housing affordability must be addressed.
The other important change was proper recognition that the major key to fixing Canada’s housing affordability issues and slowing house price acceleration is to address the housing supply shortage. This has been an issue for some time, so it was excellent to see it finally properly recognized in the party platforms this election—the trick now will be to ensure there is follow through to implement initiatives that will see more housing supply actually built. As the International Monetary Fund stated in 2019, quite simply: “To tackle housing affordability in Canada, build more houses.”
Housing was such a hot issue during this campaign that it warranted its own stand-alone platforms in the main parties’ policy documents, which should allow for cooperation and collaboration towards a common goal as we enter into a minority government[NR1] [NS2] . With the Liberal party at the helm, it is very encouraging to see several platform promises related to housing that are important to Canadians, especially measures aimed to support first-time buyers and more housing supply. These commitments included:
- Give cities the tools to speed up housing construction through a Housing Accelerator Fund, which will make $4 billion available to challenge the country’s largest cities to accelerate their housing plans, creating a target of 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2024-25.
- Through the Housing Accelerator Fund, encourage public transit-oriented development, support a wide-range of eligible municipal investments, including red tape reduction efforts, and reward cities and communities that build more homes, faster.
- Making the First Time Home Buyer Incentive more flexible to give Canadians the option of a deferred mortgage loan to reduce their monthly mortgage costs (as an alternative to the current shared equity model).
- Helping young Canadians afford a down payment faster by introducing a tax-free First Home Savings Account, which will allow Canadians under 40 to save up to $40,000 toward their first home, and withdraw it tax-free to put toward their purchase, with no requirement to repay it.
- Help Canadians improve the energy efficiency of their homes and reduce their energy bills, providing grants through the Greener Homes initiative of up to $5,000 for home retrofits and interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for deep retrofits.
- Require EnerGuide labelling of homes at the time of sale.
- Boost the participation of diverse Canadians in the skilled trades.
- Double the Union Training and Innovation Program to $50 million a year to support more apprenticeship training opportunities.
Now that the Speech from the Throne and Ministerial Mandate letters have been revealed, it is clear that housing remains a top priority for the government. One of the biggest items for the Minister of Housing will be the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), a $4 billion fund aimed at growing the housing supply of middle-class homes by 100,000 additional units over and above normal activity by 2025. This fund was a cornerstone of the Liberal election platform and responded well to CHBA recommendations. It will be critical that this fund be targeted at getting much more market-rate housing supply built—both for homeownership and for rent.
The federal government has an important role to play in addressing the housing needs of Canadians. Elections are a time for voices to be heard, and this one made it clear that Canadians are concerned about housing affordability. It was also made clear that to address housing affordability, we need more housing supply. With all parties working together, positive steps can be taken in the coming months to make owning a home more affordable for the many younger people and new Canadians.