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Scotiabank: Why Canada needs to focus on ways to encourage more home building

5/14/2021

The recent run-up in housing prices, and the attendant worries about affordability and accessibility, have many stakeholders scrambling to find quick solutions. While understandable, those approaches are likely to have only minimal impacts on Canada’s housing situation and its consequences for people looking for a reasonably priced place to live. Focusing on interest rate policy or macroprudential instruments, such as stricter mortgage stress tests, draws attention away from the underlying cause of the problem: the inability of supply to meet demand. Put simply, this country doesn’t build enough housing. We should not be surprised by this. Canada has increased immigration dramatically in recent years to tremendous benefit to the economy, but we failed to pro-actively address the housing challenges the consequent population boom was sure to bring. Policy efforts must focus far more on anticipatory, collaborative, multistakeholder and very specific solutions to the housing situation rather than on the short-term and ultimately ineffective macroprudential Band-Aids applied in recent years. Scotiabank Economics is publishing research this week looking at the increase in Canada’s housing stock relative to the increase in population over the past several years to get a sense of how effective we have been in creating new units. The numbers are not encouraging. One way to look at it is by using the ratio of new housing to population growth. By that measure, construction has been well below its historical average since mid-2017. That is perhaps not surprising, given that Canada has seen an immigration-fuelled population boom since 2015. In the three years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, population grew nearly twice as fast as new housing units were being built. That ratio improved somewhat with the COVID-related stall in immigration, but it is likely to reverse course once immigration returns to planned levels.

Dan Rees is group head, Canadian banking at the Bank of Nova Scotia. Jean-Fran¬ćois Perrault is Scotiabank’s chief economist

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