CMHC’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive Off to a Slow Start

Four months after its official launch, CMHC’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive had funded just 4% of its three-year goal, according to new data provided by the agency.
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Four months after its official launch, CMHC’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive had funded just 4% of its three-year goal, according to new data provided by the agency.

From the time the down payment assistance program launched on Sept. 2 to Dec. 9, CMHC received just 3,252 applications from across Canada, 2,730 of which were approved. That translated into total funding of $51.3 millionwell off pace of the agency’s three-year target of $1.25 billion.

Under the program, the government will provide first-time buyers with an interest-free down payment loan of up to 5% for resale purchases, and 10% if the property is a new build. The CMHC then participates in any rise or fall in value of the home, and the loan must be repaid either when the house is sold or within 25 years.

Interest in the program was highest in Quebec, where 1,300 applications were received. Comparatively, just 436 Ontarians applied, according to statistics that were tabled in Parliament last week.

Here’s a look at the breakdown of applications from some of the major housing markets across Canada:

  • Greater Toronto Area: 148
  • Vancouver: 45
  • Edmonton: 447
  • Calgary: 260
  • Winnipeg: 144
  • Montreal 654
  • Halifax: 64
  • New Brunswick: 60
  • PEI: 12

CMHC head Evan Siddall defended the results via Twitter on Friday:

“In addition to CMHC’s challenges in estimating demand for the FTHBI, uneven lender support is a complicating factor,” he tweeted on Friday. “It may also be evidence that there is less unsatisfied FTHBI demand due to the stress test than people claim. People can always buy less expensive homes.

Evan Siddall defends FTHBI results

Why is the FTHBI Unpopular?

first-time home buyer incentive proves unpopularSince the initiative was first announced in the Liberals’ spring budget, many in the industry have criticized it for being overly complicated and promising negligible benefits.

One of the biggest restrictions of the program is that it’s currently limited to purchases of up to $565,000. In markets like Toronto and Vancouver, buyers can be hard-pressed to find available properties under that threshold. According to recent data from the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average sale price in December was $837,788.

Many buyers have also expressed unease at the thought of giving up equity in their home, particularly with prices rising rapidly in many markets across the country.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised tweaks to the FTHBI during last year’s federal election, no additional updates have since been provided. The proposed changes would increase the maximum purchase price eligible under the program to $789,000 for buyers in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria.

It remains to be seen whether the FTHBI’s slow start is a harbinger of future demand over the coming years, or whether first-time buyers will grow more receptive to sharing a chunk of their home equity with the government.

Steve Huebl

Steve Huebl

Steve Huebl is a graduate of Ryerson University's School of Journalism and has been with Canadian Mortgage Trends and reporting on the mortgage industry since 2009. His past work experience includes The Toronto Star, The Calgary Herald, the Sarnia Observer and Canadian Economic Press. Born and raised in Toronto, he now calls Montreal home.

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