April 16th, 2024

CMHC ends first-time homebuyer incentive, a program critics say ‘made no sense’

By Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press on March 1, 2024.

Canada's housing agency says the first-time home buyer incentive has been discontinued. A real estate sign is displayed in front of a house in the Riverdale area of Toronto on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Evan Buhler.

Canada’s housing agency says it is ending the first-time homebuyer incentive program, which many had criticized as unhelpful.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said in a notice on its website that the deadline for new or updated submissions to the program is midnight eastern time on March 21.

The plan was meant to help first-time buyers by having the government take on partial ownership of their property.

The government offered a loan of five or 10 per cent of the purchase price that would go toward a larger down payment, with the intended goal of reducing monthly payments.

Under the program, homeowners have to repay the incentive after 25 years or when the property is sold, with the amount owing adjusted to reflect how the value of the property has changed.

The program was hampered in part by eligibility issues including limits to household income and the size of a mortgage the buyer could take on.

Total borrower income couldn’t be higher than $120,000, or $150,000 in Toronto, Vancouver or Victoria, while the total borrowing could be no more than four times the qualifying income, or 4.5 times in the three pricey cities.

The program wasn’t useful since it didn’t help buyers put together a minimum down payment, and the restrictions meant some borrowers qualified for smaller amounts than they otherwise would, said James Laird, co-CEO of Ratehub.ca and president of CanWise mortgage lender.

The government-ownership component also added complications to a convoluted program that was poorly thought out, he said.

“It was literally like they sat in a room by themselves, without anyone who understood the industry, and just made up a bunch of stuff that made no sense,” said Laird.

The government already helps first-time buyers by backing uninsured mortgages, but if they want to do more they could allow amortizations to be stretch out over 30 years, he said.

“It lowers the monthly cost … and there’s no complicated co-ownership agreement.”

CMHC did not immediately provide comment.

The first-time homebuyer incentive was launched in 2019 with a $1.25-billion commitment.

As of the end of 2022, CMHC had committed $329 million representing about 18,500 applications.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

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