Long-Term Mortgages for Developers? Leaked Memo Raises Questions About CMHC's 55-Year Plans

Long-Term Mortgages for Developers? Leaked Memo Raises Questions About CMHC's 55-Year Plans
June 7, 2024

Canada's housing market is in a state of flux. Soaring population growth, currently at a record  3.4% (according to Statistics Canada, 2024 Q1 data), stands in stark contrast to a significant slowdown in new home construction. The Government of Canada (GoC) initially attributed this imbalance to overly restrictive regulations, suggesting a need to "legalize" housing. However, a recent leak sheds light on a different culprit: developer leverage.

A Confidential Memo Reveals Leverage Concerns

A confidential memo sent by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to lenders in May 2024 paints a different picture. The CMHC, a Crown corporation responsible for housing stability, highlights concerns about excessive leverage within the development sector. This suggests that developers may be taking on too much debt to finance projects, making them vulnerable to economic downturns and potentially leading to project delays or even defaults.

The Multi-Unit Mortgage Loan Insurance Program (MU MLI)

In response, the CMHC has implemented significant changes to its flagship program, the Multi-Unit Mortgage Loan Insurance (MU MLI) program. This program plays a vital role in the development of multi-unit residential housing (apartments, condos) by providing lenders with mortgage loan insurance. This insurance mitigates the risk for lenders in case a borrower defaults on their loan. Traditionally, private investors fund the MU MLI program. However, with investor confidence waning due to the perceived risk in the development sector, the GoC stepped in earlier this year, raising $40 billion to buy these bonds. Notably, the recent budget proposes to increase this cap to $60 billion, highlighting the potential for a larger-than-anticipated need for government support.

The Changes to the MU MLI Program

The CMHC's changes target two specific areas:

  • Extended Amortization for New Projects: Previously, CMHC-insured mortgages for new construction projects had a maximum amortization period of 40 years. This has been increased to 50 years, effective June 24, 2024. This allows developers to spread out their loan repayments over a longer period, potentially easing their immediate cash flow pressures.
  • Amortization as a Default Management Tool: The CMHC is also extending amortization periods as a tool to manage potential defaults on existing projects. For loans approved under the standard Market MLI program, the maximum amortization can now be extended to 50 years. However, the most significant change applies to the higher-risk MLI Select program, which caters to projects with a higher perceived risk profile. Here, the maximum amortization can be extended to a staggering 55 years. This extended repayment window could provide a lifeline to struggling developers facing potential defaults.

Concerns and Potential Issues

While extending amortization periods may offer some temporary relief for developers, several concerns linger:

  • Increased Leverage, Not Efficiency:  Lengthening repayment periods doesn't address underlying project inefficiencies. It could even encourage developers to maintain inefficient practices, potentially driving construction costs even higher in the long run. This could ultimately counteract the intended benefit of increased affordability.
  • Risk of Outdated Buildings: The average lifespan of a residential building is estimated to be 50-60 years. With mortgages potentially lasting 50-55 years, there's a risk that buildings could become functionally obsolete before the loan is paid off. This could lead to challenges and higher costs for future residents, who may have to contend with outdated building systems or the need for significant renovations.
  • Intergenerational Burden:  A 50-55 year mortgage effectively places the financial burden of a building project on two generations. This raises questions about fairness and the long-term stability of the housing market.
  • Impact on Affordability: The GoC presents these changes as a solution to affordability concerns. However, critics argue this is primarily a developer bailout that could prop up land values without addressing the root causes of high housing costs. Increased leverage could even lead to inflated construction costs in the long run, further hindering affordability.

Market Outlook and Next Steps

The long-term effects of these changes on the housing market remain uncertain. Coldwell Banker Horizon Realty will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available. We recommend consulting with a qualified financial advisor before making any real estate investment decisions, as this policy change may have significant implications for the market.

Source: Better Dwelling

Disclaimer: This article provides information for general knowledge only and is not investment or financial advice.

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