Federal government feels the heat as higher interest rates affect housing industry

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By Kevin Lee, CEO, CHBA

It was a busy summer at the national level of the association.

Results from CHBA’s Q2 Housing Market Index (HMI) were published in early August, hot on the heels of another interest rate hike by the Bank of Canada and unimpressive July housing starts data from CMHC. Along with other industry insights, CHBA’s HMI indicated that 67 per cent of panelists stated that the slowdown in the market is causing them to build fewer units, and 22 per cent said that the slowdown is causing them to cancel projects entirely. Those numbers, which give shape to how rising interest rates are – and will be – affecting housing supply, caught the attention of national and local media, resulting in extensive media work as CHBA’s HMI was brought into the conversation on TV, radio, online and social media news. (See more on the 2023 Q2 HMI on page 30.)

Favourable housing policies

CHBA has been, and remains, in regular contact with officials at various levels at BoC and government departments and agencies, using the results of the HMI to communicate the clear link between higher interest rates, affordability, housing supply and a more challenging environment to build. CHBA advises that if policies are not altered in favour of new construction and improved affordability, then there is no chance of addressing the housing supply shortage and increasing housing starts. CHBA’s press release in response to BoC’s rate hike reoutlined policy changes needed to support homebuyers, improve the viability of purpose-built rental developments and limit additional slowdowns in new home supply.

Currently, the industry is not even close to on track to double housing starts – which is what the federal government rightly said was needed over the next 10 years to address Canada’s supply shortage. The shortfall has put the federal government under fire. In a move to provide a different and polished voice to the issue, Sean Fraser was recently appointed the new Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities. CHBA has previously engaged Minister Fraser in discussions about housing and labour through his previous immigration portfolio, and he spoke at CHBA’s Day on the Hill reception back in May.

Demonstrating just how much the conversation has turned in the last few months against the former goodwill the federal government garnered from prioritizing housing, recent polling by Leger now shows that Canadians are split on who to blame for the housing crisis (40 per cent blame federal, 32 per cent provincial, six per cent municipal, 22 per cent not sure). It is anticipated that the government will use its upcoming fall economic statement to attempt to temper negative public opinion. CHBA has been engaged with officials on many fronts in this regard, and formally submitted its recommendations for the next federal budget. CHBA will continue to engage with political and departmental officials throughout the year to address issues important to the sector. 

De facto land expropriations

In other recent news in support of builders, renovators and developers, advocacy by CHBA resulted in no further increase to duties on U.S. imports of gypsum board into western Canada, benefitting builder and renovator members across the country.

Renovators will also be interested to learn that proposed code changes to alterations to existing building (such as renovations), which a volunteer working group established by CHBA provided input into, are expected to be approved soon, and open to public review in early 2024. 

Challenges for developers with de facto land expropriation by governments are a major issue for our industry, but significant progress is being made by CHBA through engagement with cases in the Supreme Court of Canada that set precedent for all rulings across the country. Last fall, CHBA was a successful intervenor in a Supreme Court precedent-setting case out of Halifax, where the successful ruling now makes it easier for developers and property owners to be compensated for government action that removes all reasonable uses of their lands. This was a major victory for CHBA’s development community. CHBA is looking to repeat that success in a new case out of St. John’s.

As we head into what will no doubt be a busy fall, members are encouraged to subscribe to Industry Highlights, our media scan on housing issues and developments, with CHBA commentary, by emailing communications@chba.ca.