Canada moves to prevent housing bubble in major cities

OTTAWA: Canada took steps Thursday to limit the risk of a real estate bubble as home prices in Toronto and Vancouver continue to soar.

Despite efforts to cool heady real estate activity on five occasions since 2008, including by tightening mortgage lending rules, prices in both major cities have hit new records.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the creation of a working group to review the housing affordability crisis, and make policy recommendations within three months.

Canadians, he said in a statement, are “worried about their ability to buy their first home, or about the value of their most important investment.”

The group will examine factors affecting supply and demand for housing, affordability, and possible “further steps” to protect lenders and ensure real estate market stability.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week an influx of capital from Asia is partly to blame for double-digit housing price increases year after year in Toronto and Vancouver, but provided no supporting data to back up the remarks.

His comments followed warnings by Canada’s central bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) about a possible housing bubble.

According to their respective real estate boards, Vancouver prices climbed 30 percent in the 12 months ending May 31, while Toronto prices rose 16 percent. The average price for a detached single-family house in Vancouver topped Can$1.5 million (US$1.17 million).

A Simon Fraser University study noted that the proportion of homes in Vancouver valued at more than Can$1 million rose from 19 percent in 2006 to 91 percent this year.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson has blamed speculators, and proposed introducing a tax on vacant homes in the city, whose number has climbed to 11,000 (mostly condominium units).

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