Liberals promise helping hand to first time homebuyers through grants, loans

Aug 24 2021, 1:19 pm

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau outlined his party’s plan to make it easier to buy a home across the country, vowing anew to address a housing affordability crisis that has grown since he came to office.

It was only four years ago that the Liberals unveiled a sweeping housing strategy designed to boost supply and help drive down costs for families.

The strategy was expanded in ensuing years, valued at tens of billions of dollars.

What the Liberals unveiled Tuesday would tweak programs aimed at first-time homebuyers, including one to help offset the cost of a mortgage that the government recently expanded because of lown take-up in some of the hottest housing markets in the country.

Trudeau defended his government’s existing national housing strategy, which the parliamentary budget officer earlier this month described as having limited impact, saying the announcement of changes and additions wasn’t a sign of any shortcoming.

“Anyone out there promising that they can fix the housing crisis like this, doesn’t understand the housing crisis, or doesn’t have a real plan to do it. They’re just trying to sell you something,” Trudeau said near a housing development where home prices can reach $1 million.

“That’s why we’ve created a very ambitious, but multi-faceted plan that responds in tangible ways to make sure that people have better options.”

He strained to be heard at times as one heckler chided the prime minister for perceived inaction on housing prices since taking office in late 2015, another criticized him over the handling of evacuations in Afghanistan, and another on mandatory vaccinations for travellers.

The housing plan the Liberals laid out would build, renovate, or protect 1.4 million homes, although the party didn’t provide a breakdown of that figure.

It then provides about $1 billion in loans and grants to help develop rent-to-own projects with an array of partners, creating a pathway to home ownership for renters in five years or less.

The party is also promising to create what they’re calling a First Home Savings Account, where those under 40 could save up to $40,000 inside and withdraw tax-free for a down payment with no requirement to repay it, as well as expand an existing tax credit for first-time buyers and reduce by 25% the cost of mortgage insurance from the federal housing agency.

The plan also includes a Housing Accelerator Fund, which would make $4 billion available to help large cities speed up their housing plans, with a target of 100,000 new “middle-class” homes by 2025, with some funding to cities in the plan contingent on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Trudeau has had six years to enact those housing policies and has “failed.”

“The housing crisis has exploded in the last three, four years under his leadership,” O’Toole said in Ottawa.

“He has had programs that have been ineffective in terms of affordable housing, in terms of programs for first-time homebuyers? We have a serious plan to tackle a serious crisis for our country and after six years of inaction from Mr. Trudeau, more hollow words today is not what Canadians deserve.”

Green Leader Annamie Paul was speaking Tuesday about affordable housing in the Toronto Centre riding in which she is running. The median income is $39,000 while the average one-bedroom rent is $2,300, she said.

“So you do the math and tell me how people are going to manage to make ends meet,” she said.

“This is something that is a failure. It is something that has ngotten worse and we know that the situation has been exacerbated during the pandemic.”

The Liberal pledge unveiled Tuesday adds to their more recent push for local governments to redo policies to better align with their national housing strategy.

Trudeau also promised a “bill of rights” for homeowners that would ban blind bidding, enshrine a legal right to an inspection, ban foreign buyers for two years as the Conservatives have also promised, and an anti-flipping tax on residential properties.

Trudeau suggested the government has the tools to enforce the proposed set of rules and prevent predatory andn speculative practices.

“Justin Trudeau has sided with wealthy speculators for six years as they’ve pushed the price of a home out of reach for everybody else,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement.

“If he really wanted to make housing more affordable for people, he’d have done it already.”

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