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It’s getting harder to escape from the household debt trap

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The realities of life have pushed many Canadian households toward debt – and for many, it’s turned into a trap that’s impossible to escape.

According to a newly released white paper from GreedyRates that draws from official government statistics, surveys, and media sources, the ratio of household debt to disposable income currently stands at 155%; recent figures from the OECD places the number at 181%, the worst among the G7. That has come an immense surge in dependence on home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), with growth in HELOC borrowing outpacing residential mortgages since 2017.

While the booming housing market has not benefited the one third of Canadian households that rent rather than own their homes, many Canadian homeowners have been capitalizing on the increased equity from their properties. Over the last decade, the number of households with both a HELOC and a mortgage has reportedly risen by nearly 40%.

It’s hard to lay blame given how the costs of life and living have risen. For instance, 29% of Canadians have expressed concerns with having children, citing the costs associated with the decision; over the past three years, the cost of childcare alone has risen by as much as 20% in some Canadian cities. And while more than 60% of Canadians plan to curb their costs by eating less frequently in restaurants, that’s only a partial solution given the rising food costs of meat, fruits, and vegetables.

The COVID-19 pandemic might be set to overturn existing trends such as high housing costs. Over the course of the crisis, some households have been able to cut back on lifestyle spending and chip away at their personal debt, with significant help from government aid and loan deferral programs. But for many others, the larger economic instability caused by the pandemic has been a source of greater pain; as of August 2020, Canada had restored only 55% of the job losses from the first wave.

Against that backdrop of rising debt dependence, GreedyRates said the rate of insolvencies has grown to rival that seen during the pre-2010 global financial crisis. In 2009, during the worst of the economic downturn, nearly 160,000 Canadians filed for insolvency either via bankruptcy or a consumer proposal; that number moderated during the ensuing recovery, but by 2019 had risen to include more than 127,000 Canadians. For the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2020, consumers filed 122,250 insolvencies, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada.

“COVID-19 has inevitably exacerbated the financial situation of many, and it is crucial that people are equipped with the knowledge they need to get out of debt and better prepared for the year ahead,” said Danit Ianovici, head editor of GreedyRates.

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Major housing markets to shine this year and next: Reuters poll

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BENGALURU (Reuters) – The outlook for major global housing markets is brighter than previously thought due to expectations for a broad based economic recovery and easy monetary policy, with only a low risk that a COVID-19 resurgence will derail activity, Reuters polls showed.

Over 100 million people have been infected by the coronavirus, leading to a healthcare crisis and deep economic recessions, but fiscal and monetary stimulus, and the rollout of vaccines, mean the global economy is set to recover this year.[ECILT/WRAP]

While already high unemployment caused by the pandemic is expected to rise further, the Jan. 15-Feb. 1 poll of over 130 property market analysts showed average home prices would rise this year and next in most countries polled.

That compares to largely pessimistic predictions made in September.

An economic rebound, loose monetary policy, government stimulus, pent-up demand and tight inventories were expected to boost housing market activity to varying degrees in Australia, Britain, Canada, Dubai, India and the United States.

“A solid economic recovery bolstered by more fiscal stimulus, still-low mortgage rates, and unmet demand should continue to prop up home sales and construction in 2021,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

“We expect some gradual moderation in price growth over the course of 2021 as home sales cool, but sparse inventory will keep a solid floor under home prices.”

Reuters Poll: Major housing markets outlook https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/polling/bdwvkybkqvm/Reuters%20Poll%20-%20Global%20housing%20markets%20outlook%20-%20Feb%202021.PNG

Three-quarters, or 77 of 102 analysts, said in response to an additional question that the risk of a COVID-19 resurgence derailing housing markets this year was low.

Although the U.S. economy on average contracted last year at its sharpest pace since the Second World War due to the pandemic, it had little bearing on housing market activity, an immunity the sector was expected to carry this year.

Despite the recent surge in coronavirus infections and renewed restrictions imposed in the United States, house prices there were forecast to rise over the next two years and activity was expected to continue on a strong course. [US/HOMES]

“The recent COVID-19 surge has not had any noticeable impact, with transactions near record high levels despite record high case growth,” said Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.

“Pent-up activity from COVID-19-shutdowns earlier in the year will soon start to wane and transactions will likely normalize. More housing supply will come online as vaccination picks up at the same time that base effects will start to roll off.”

Reuters Poll: Global house prices outlook – Feb 2021 https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/polling/xklpylyqbvg/Reuters%20Poll%20-%20Global%20house%20prices%20outlook%20-%20Feb%202021.PNG

When asked about the primary driver of housing market activity this year, over 55% of respondents, or 57 of 101, chose an economic recovery and easy monetary policy.

Of the remainder, 20 analysts named a desire for more living space and 18 said a successful vaccine rollout, while six chose fiscal stimulus.

Australian and Canadian house prices were expected to rise significantly this year and next, helped by low mortgage rates and massive fiscal spending. [AU/HOMES][CA/HOMES]

When asked what was more likely for housing market activity, 58 of 100 respondents said an acceleration. The others expected a slowdown.

Those views were swayed by a somewhat modest outlook for the British, Dubai and Indian housing markets compared to the rest.

Indian house prices were expected to barely rise this year despite an economic recovery and supportive policies, and Dubai house prices were predicted to fall at a slower pace this year and next compared to the previous poll. [IN/HOMES][AE/HOMES]

British house prices were forecast to flatline this year.[GB/HOMES]

“While we expect a strong start to the year, we expect momentum to wane following the end of the stamp duty (property sales tax) holiday in April. Towards the end of the year the housing market should settle,” said Aneisha Beveridge at estate agents Hamptons International.

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Windsor and London, Ont. make top three most affordable housing markets for 2020

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WINDSOR, ONT. — While the price of housing has been on the rise, Windsor and London are still considered the most affordable markets in Ontario.

According to a Point2 study, Halifax, N.S., Windsor and London make up the top three most affordable markets in 2020, with most homeowners’ mortgages in Windsor and London accounting for 11.4 per cent of their income.

“In all three cities, incomes have been increasing at a faster pace than home prices in the last decade,” the study says.

With the exception of Oshawa, Ont., Point2 says incomes in all of the 10 most affordable cities have increased fast home prices.

However, according to Point2’s latest study, increased income is “no match” for the surging home prices in the 50 most populous cities. The disparity between home prices and slower moving incomes means more cities are becoming unaffordable.

A market is considered unaffordable when homeowners are spending more than 30 per cent of their income to cover mortgage.

The study says 2020 caused disruptions due to the pandemic, but those challenges are “just the most recent events undermining” homeownership affordability in Canada.

“In the last 10 years, the share of income needed to afford housing has gone up exponentially, with monthly mortgage payments becoming a financial burden for increasing numbers of homeowners across the nation,” the study says.

Over the last 10 years, mortgage affordability has worsened in 38 of the country’s 50 largest real estate markets, and the number of unaffordable markets has jumped from six to 16.

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Even with the highest apartment vacancy rate since 2012, rent in London, Ont. keeps rising

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Even with hundreds of new apartments on the market last year, the average monthly rent in London, Ont., rose by seven per cent in 2020 to an all-time high of $1,119 a month. 

The new data was published in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) rental market survey, which is a yearly snapshot of the apartment rental market across Canada, which reported London, Ont., saw its lowest vacancy rate in nearly a decade. 

The CMHC survey data from October 2020 suggests the overall vacancy rate in the London region was 3.4 per cent, which is a 1.6 per cent increase in the vacancy rate from the same period last year. 

With a 3.4 per cent vacancy rate, it puts the London region slightly higher than the national average of 3.2 and with a seven per cent bump in average monthly rent to $1,119, it puts London more in line with the national average of $1,508, according to CMHC data. 

“The vacancy rate did increase, however when you break down the reason, it’s more of a supply story,” Anthony Passarelli, a senior analyst with the CMHC, told CBC News Friday.

“The vacancy rate didn’t increase because there was more people renting, it was actually because London had a pretty strong increase in rental units last year.”

Passarelli said 746 new apartment units came online between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, pushing the overall vacancy rate to height unseen since 2012. 

“It really wasn’t the function of demand being lower for renting. It was more of a strong increase in supply. Generally it’s not that strong an increase, it just happens to be this year.”

The data suggests the surge in supply has not forced landlords to offer anything in terms of concessions on rent. All bedroom types saw gains, with bachelor apartments leading the way with an 8.5 per cent increase over last fall to an average monthly rate of $774. 

It means cheaper apartments are in short supply, according to CMHC data. Last year’s survey suggests only 2.3 per cent of the region’s rentals were considered affordable, which is 30 per cent of average household income. 

While vacancies in the London region may have risen overall, Abe Oudshoorn, a homelessness advocate and the managing editor of the International Journal on Homelessness, said it only reflects the upper tiers of the rental market. 

On the lower end, the demand to get out of homelessness and into housing continues to put pressure on the supply of cheaper rentals.

He said it means landlords aren’t looking to give concessions on rent, even with the pandemic still raging, because once it’s over they know it will be back to business as usual and they can almost name their price. 

“If you’re a landlord you know this is time-limited,” Oudshoorn said. “There’s not a huge motivation to sign yourself into a renter at a lower rate if you know it’s going to pick up.”

It’s why the homelessness situation in the city seems worse than ever before, he said, even with the public sector providing temporary housing through the course of the pandemic. 

“We have a temporary mitigation right now, it’s the WISH project and it’s the motel hotels.”

WISH, or the COVID-Winter Interim Solution to Homelessness, is a coalition to try new solutions for survival and sheltering during London’s coldest months. This winter, the City of London is funding two temporary shelters for up to sixty people.

“It has de-intensified shelters and allowed them to make their COVID changes and decreased the number of folks who are urban camping at the moment.”

Oudshoorn said governments need to invest in more housing that’s geared to income, which would alleviate the stress on the apartment rental market caused by competition between people with low to moderate income looking for cheaper accommodations. 

“It’s not like we’re even investing to build at the bottom end, we’re just investing to stop the inflation of rent,” he said, noting most attempts at subsidizing rent are aimed at affordable housing rather than geared-to-income. 

Come spring, temporary housing for the city’s homeless will end. If the federal government makes good on its promise to give each Canadian a jab of COVID-19 vaccine by September, Oudshoorn said competition for an affordable apartment will become even more intense. 

“It is bleak,” he said. “Londoners are often being priced out of both the purchase and the rental market by folks across the province.”

Passarelli said he agrees with Oudshoorn’s interpretation of the rental market, adding the same trend is being reflected in most cities across the province. 

“I definitely agree. The data bears that out and this is not just in London. This is in most markets in Ontario. It’s harder to find a lower rent apartment, there’s more demand there.”

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