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Globe and Mail Events Content

Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted housing in Canada? The Globe and Mail, in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), hosted a webcast on June 30 to create a forum for discussion on housing access and affordability, drawing on lessons from the pandemic.

Watch the full webcast below. Highlights from the discussion appear below the video.

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Highlights from the discussion:

1). The COVID-19 pandemic will cause a downturn in housing prices

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is forecasting a decrease in average MLS selling prices of houses in Canada’s six major cities of nine percent to 18 percent over the next year, said Michel Tremblay, senior vice-president of policy and innovation with CMHC. Canadians are facing a health crisis, loss of jobs and a significant downturn in the economy.

CMHC has introduced programs to support affordability and market stability, such as mortgage deferrals and mortgage purchase programs. Looking longer term, the organization has set a goal to have every Canadian in a home they can afford and that meets their needs by 2030. He encouraged partners who have traditionally not been involved in housing, such as businesses and technology innovators to participate in the goal given housing is a foundation of health and quality of life.

2). Housing and health are connected

Picking up on that point Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, said housing is primarily for shelter, safety and health, but that connection is often missed in conversations about housing. He cited data from the Canadian Medical Association showing the link between an individual’s risk of getting ill and where they live, a correlation exemplified by the pandemic.

Vulnerable Canadians who live in over-crowded housing, congregated settings or homes where physical distancing isn’t possible are most at risk of becoming ill during the COVID-19 pandemic he said. Workers who need to use public transit to get to essential jobs face higher risks as well. The pandemic has also increased homelessness. We need to adopt a ‘healthy housing’ approach, he said.

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3). Cities have forgotten how to solve housing shortages

Canadian cities used to be good at providing affordable housing but have forgotten how, said Abigail Bond, executive director of the housing secretariat with the City of Toronto. Between 1960 and 1980, Toronto created approximately 200,000 rental units. Since 1980, the city has delivered only about 18,000.

Ms. Bond is optimistic cities can go back to the days of creating rental supply. She too urged participation by more partners. For instance, large employers might consider getting involved. The pandemic has made clearer how important essential workers are to Canadian society yet many struggle to afford the cost of housing in Canadian cities, she said. The vacancy rate in Toronto has declined through the years to about one percent. The City is aiming to stimulate the development of rental units through initiatives such as providing land.

(4). We should view housing as an ecosystem

Mazyar Mortazavi, president and CEO of TAS, a housing developer, said we need to use community-based development to build housing ecosystems, and that will require policy change. An inclusionary approach would give rise to the incorporation of health, accessibility, food security, work-related issues, childcare and elder care in housing and urban planning.

He said housing has become commoditized – we trade houses in the same way we trade stocks. The mindset positions housing primarily as a financial instrument, when we should instead view it as the foundation of urban resilience. Inclusionary housing promotes socioeconomic benefits and demographic diversity, he added.

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5). Demand for housing will stay strong

Market forces in Canada’s largest cities have tightened supply and driven up housing demand – a situation that likely won’t change without government intervention, said Sherry Cooper, chief economist with Dominion Lending Centres. Population growth, driven in part by immigration to Canada’s urban centres has put upward pressure on the housing market. At the same time, development of rental units has given way to condos. Short-term rental companies such as Airbnb have also played a role in decreasing rental vacancies, she added.

This year there are more factors at play related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian government had set a target of 320,000 new permanent residents for 2020 – a goal it likely won’t reach given the travel shutdown. Canada will also have fewer international students this year, another source of new permanent residents. These shifts will impact the housing market but to what degree is still uncertain, she added.

View the full webcast above.

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