The Toronto Real Estate Board says B-20 needs to be “revisited” because, in addition to stymieing eager and otherwise qualified buyers, it’s harming the Canadian economy.
The CEO of TREB credited the government for taking action on key housing files, but admonished one of its agencies for implementing a stress test that, combined with rising interest rates, is disastrous for both buyers and the economy.
“One area that needs to be revisited is the imposition of the OSFI-mandated two percentage point mortgage stress test,” John DiMichele said in a statement. “While we saw buyers return to the market in the second half of 2018, we have to have an honest discussion on whether or not today’s homebuyers are being stress tested against rates that are realistic. Home sales in the GTA, and Canada more broadly, play a huge role in economic growth, job creation and government revenues each year. Looking through this lens, policymakers need to be aware of unintended consequences the stress test could have on the housing market and broader economy.”
Mortgage growth hit a 17-year nadir last year—the influence of B-20 writ large—but could the problem be an incoherent bureaucracy rather than modified underwriting guidelines?
“The most important thing to consider with the stress test is the intentions are pure—and that’s to protect the financial system and the housing market,” said Elan Weintraub, director of Mortgage Outlet. “The problem comes in the disjointed way in which it was executed because you have three government agencies—the Ontario government implemented the foreign buyer tax, then the Bank of Canada increased interest rates five times, which is disconnected from OSFI implementing the stress test. Everyone wants a strong housing market, but you have three government agencies without integrated policy implementation.”
The mortgage industry is no stranger to policymakers’ whims, but a history of intervention could pave the way to slightly more consumer-friendly adjustments. Frances Hinojosa believes now that the Toronto and Vancouver metropolitan areas have cooled, OSFI could, at the very least, entertain the notion of revising B-20.
“There should be some consideration done by the government to make amendments to the B-20 rules that will still uphold prudent lending guidelines,” said the Tribe Financial managing partner. “If there are any amendments to make, I think they may extend amortizations, which would allow millennials and first-time buyers to become homeowners a little earlier so that they can secure their financial futures.”
In fact, Carolyn Rogers, OSFI’s assistant superintendent of the regulation sector, recently told Bloomberg that the government agency might review B-20 if market conditions change. However, she wouldn’t open the door to rescinding the stress test.
“OSFI monitors the environment on a continual basis and when we determine that adjustments to our standards and guidelines are warranted, we make them.”