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Housing affordability issues hit home in Manitoba

Seth Perlman / The Associated Press files

Since Jan. 1, the cost of building or renovating a home in Winnipeg has climbed 7.3 per cent.

Housing affordability has long been a hot-button topic in Canada’s biggest cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Manitoba has always prided itself on its housing affordability, with successive provincial governments promoting the Manitoba Advantage — that building or buying a home in our province is more affordable relative to other parts of the country.

But that advantage has been eroding. Increasingly, affordability of housing is being identified as a top-of-mind issue for most Canadians, in every part of the country.

Home ownership is being seen as becoming increasingly out of reach for many Canadians.

In April 2018, a national opinion poll was undertaken by Earnscliffe Strategy Group on behalf of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

Over 1,500 Canadians were polled from coast to coast, asked their opinions on housing affordability.

Not surprisingly, three out of four Canadians think when you are middle class, you should own a home.

But 80 per cent of Canadians believe becoming a home owner is more difficult than it used to be.

Further, 75 per cent of Canadians view home ownership as a key to financial security.

This is why representatives from the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association joined their colleagues from across Canada in Ottawa on May 29 for the Canadian Home Builders’ Association Day on the Hill.

Representatives from across the country spent the day meeting with members of parliament, senators and key federal government officials to talk about the concerns Canadians are raising over home ownership affordability.

The affordability of housing is important to all Canadians because declining home ownership rates put pressure on rental pricing and availability.

If renters can’t transition into homeowners, the availability of rental housing declines while demand grows.

With rental housing becoming more difficult to access, people looking at moving out of subsidized or social housing have a more difficult time finding suitable rental units.

Manitoba communities have not been immune to these concerns. In fact, affordability issues normally thought to exist only in Canada’s largest cities are becoming increasingly relevant here at home. Recent housing affordability reports bring this reality closer to home.

Last month’s Desjardins Housing Affordability Index states residential construction costs in Winnipeg have grown at a rate that is double the growth in household average after-tax income over the past year. Statistics Canada recently reported that residential construction costs in Winnipeg rose over 14 per cent, more than double the national average, since the beginning of 2017.

Since Jan. 1, the cost of building or renovating a home in Winnipeg has shot up 7.3 per cent. To put that in comparison, the city with the next highest increase in construction costs during the first three months of 2018 was Vancouver, at 2.2 per cent.

Inefficient or complex government processes, increasing taxes and fees and other government barriers increase the cost of residential construction. Add to that significant increases to the price of raw materials such as lumber, steel, aluminum and drywall and construction costs in Manitoba have been on the rise.

Manitoba’s residential construction industry will continue to work with government decision makers at the federal, provincial and local levels to promote ways to preserve the Manitoba Advantage on housing affordability and to keep home ownership an achievable goal.

Lanny McInnes is president of the Manitoba Home Buiders’ Association.

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