The CMHC’s present role, at its base, is to insure mortgages, as such, it is an excellent addition to the real estate lending complex. The concept of the government underwriting a mortgage to assist Canadians to purchase “a” home is an outstanding one. Many Canadians have the good fortune when they decide to purchase a home to simply pay outright, call on parents to cover the cost or to provide the down payment or in some way facilitate access to owning a home.
There are many Canadians, deserving Canadians, that toil in a marginal state – unable to buy a home because their monthly commitments preclude saving a down payment of 25% ( the typical amount for uninsured mortgages) – this is known as the “renter’s trap”. The CMHC’s ability to underwrite mortgages so that people can enter the housing market with only a 5% down payment is much needed in many cases.
If one believes property rights are the keystone of a market-based economy, as I do, then one must also believe that there is a right to accumulate property. If you’re interested in promoting capitalism, there needs to be access to capital or a means to extract capital from the deployment of self in the marketplace. The purchase of a home and its eventual complete ownership offer a mechanism for people to capitalize their efforts, and then to redeploy that capital beyond shelter to other ventures in society at large.
The difference in living standard between Canada and the western world, and the emerging second and third worlds is attributable, firstly, to simple and clearly defined property rights, and secondly, to the ability for the masses to access property and related capital benefits. In Canada the fruits of the beneficial effects of home ownership are prominent, aside from the direct benefit of industry activity, there is the secondary benefit of people being able to actuate more effectively in the market due to capital retention and accumulation.
What the CMHC should avoid doing is financing speculation. The residential housing market is a temptress for a government; its ability to generate “growth” or to stimulate the economy and its most immediate attachment to national industry tends to move government beyond the mere provider of housing opportunity for the unsupported housing entrant, to an institution seeking “spin-off” with blind abandon. The government then needs to be, the sober player in the market, as opposed to the accelerant. The government should the remain in the business of supporting the purchase of a single home, it should avoid underwriting mortgages on second, third … investment properties. The shoe box condo market looks pretty good when you can lever it up from 5%, the challenge is that when the market takes an upward thrust the ability to leaver brings people into the market at a high velocity and bubbles not only form and burst, but they form big.