Conservatives’ plan to ease mortgage stress-test rules may raise debt and prices

Andrew Scheer vows to loosen rules around stress test and remove it altogether for mortgage renewals

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer makes a campaign stop in Vaughan, Ont., on Monday, September 23, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s pledge to extend mortgage amortization maximums for some homebuyers and loosen a contentious stress test would likely lead to more debt and higher property prices, some experts say.

“Oh my god, here we go again,” said Tsur Somerville, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, when he heard Scheer’s announcement Monday.

Scheer plans to loosen rules around the stress test, which was designed to ensure buyers requiring mortgages could afford payments if interest rates rose, and remove it altogether for mortgage renewals.

He also plans to allow first-time property buyers to take out 30-year mortgages — reversing moves by Stephen Harper’s previous Conservative government that reduced terms from 40 years to 25 years.

With a longer amortization, first-time homebuyers can opt for a larger mortgage than they might be able to afford payments on if it were for a shorter time frame. Meanwhile, lenders may be able to approve borrowers for larger mortgages if the stress test requirements are loosened.

The stress test — introduced in 2010 and significantly modified in 2018 — has helped to slow accelerating house prices, according to various reports.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CEO Evan Siddall defended both measures amid industry lobbying for changes earlier this summer. In a strongly worded letter to the Standing Committee of Finance Siddall said his job is to “protect our economy from potentially tragic consequences.”

The stress test has helped reduce house prices in Canada by 3.4 per cent compared to what they otherwise would have been, he said. The CMHC declined to comment Monday, saying they were not in a position to comment on political parties’ promises or announcements during the election period.

READ MORE: CMHC sets target to make housing affordable for every Canadian by 2030

A TD report released earlier this year estimated home prices could rise six per cent by the end of next year if the stress test was removed and all else remained equal.

Canadian Realtors cheered the proposal.

“Realtors have long asked for common-sense solutions designed to help Canadians purchase a home of their own,” said Jason Stephen, the Canadian Real Estate Association’s president, adding Scheer’s campaign promises include some of their suggested policy changes.

The Scheer plan also includes launching an inquiry into money laundering in the real estate sector, as well as making surplus federal real estate available for development to increase housing supply.

The supply issue is Somerville was in favour of addressing, as increased supply tends to better affordability.

Canadians’ high level of household debt has been a concern. The CMHC previously warned that high debt levels with looming interest rate hikes could lead to lower consumption, less savings or loan defaults.

Canadians owed roughly $1.77 in credit market debt — a figure that includes consumer credit, mortgages and non-mortgage loans — for every dollar of their disposable income, according to Statistic Canada’s most recent figures.

“If we’re concerned about Canadians’ level of debt, why are we helping them take on more debt?” asked Somerville.

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Kootenay snowpack nearing record levels

High snowpack can mean a greater risk of flooding in spring, say forecasters

Whitewater offering ski program for people with cognitive impairments

Discounted tickets for skiers and chaperones, as well as lessons, are available

Breanna Faulkner, Kootenay Swim Club win at Kelowna Snowfest

Faulker won four medals, including two gold

Calendars for a cause: Linocut calendars raise funds for Kalein Centre

The last few calendars and cards are available at Cowan’s Office Supplies and Zinnia Textiles

VIDEO: Kootenay Patricks, Montreal Canadiens play to the crowd in Nelson

The charity game was a spectacle from puck drop

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Risk of coronavirus low in B.C. as first case emerges in Toronto: officials

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in B.C.

Most Read