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

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

Sipili Molia, regional kettle manager, shows off the Salvation Army’s new contactless donation system for the 2020 Christmas Kettle Campaign outside municipal hall on Dec. 1. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: Tech offers hope as Salvation Army sees need skyrocket across B.C.

Charity is equipping hundreds of kettles across B.C. with ‘touchless giving technology’

Kathy MacNeil, president and chief executive officer of Island Health, Dawn Thomas, acting deputy health minister and Island Health’s vice president, Indigenous health and diversity and Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation, stand out Saanich Peninsula Hospital Tuesday morning, when they also answered questions about a new report that “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system. (Island Health/Submitted)
Head of Island Health says Saanich Peninsula Hospital not part of racist guessing game

Tsartlip First Nations Chief Don Tom welcomes changes following report but promises future scrutiny

Firefighters on scene for a gas leak in the 800-block of Viewfield Road in Esquimalt on Dec. 1. (Vanessa Nicholson photo)
No injuries after vehicle strikes Esquimalt gas line

Esquimalt Fire Rescue was called to the 800-block of Viewfield Road at 5 p.m.

The Capital Regional District and the Habitat Acquisition Fund have agreed to partner on the purchase of the $3.4-million Mountain View Forest in Saanich to establish a new regional park. (Photo courtesy the Habitat Acquisition Trust)
CRD, Habitat Acquisition Trust to spend $3.4M on 20-hectare forest park in Saanich

Mountian Road Forest property to be conserved as regional park

Caroline Sousa, Bela Spick and her son Mateo marched along Prospect Lake Road in November 2019 to bring attention to the unsafe conditions on the road. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich reduces Prospect Lake Road speed limit to 30 km/h

New speed limit in effect as of Dec. 1 from Goward Road to Estelline Road

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Dave Wallace coached the Parksville Royals for 23 years. (PQB News file photo)
B.C. baseball community mourns death of legendary Vancouver Island coach Dave Wallace

‘All who knew Dave and his passion for the game will miss him greatly’

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Most Read