A new research memo from the C.D. Howe Institute finds that most Canadian households with mortgages keep their mortgage debt at a reasonable level—although some homebuyers, particularly in pricey markets, are stretched thin.
The memo, which breaks down mortgage debt relative to after-tax income for baby boomers, gen X and millennials in 2016, noted that “most households with mortgages have no real issues.”
However, a roughly equal proportion (ranging from 10.7% to 11.9%) of all three demographic groups had mortgages that were five times larger than their incomes. The most highly indebted households were in B.C. and Ontario, where, respectively, 30% and 24% had mortgages at least four times larger than their incomes.
C.D. Howe also found that, if faced with a loss of income, many Canadians had other assets to pay down mortgage debt. A “significant” share of each demographic group had $200,000 or more in flexible assets (which include deposits, RIFs, RRSPs and mutual funds), and fewer than one in five had less than $5,000 in flexible assets.
The memo noted that the overall affordability of mortgage debt serves as evidence that the tightening of mortgage rules and revisions to the stress test guidelines are working.
“Clearly such macroprudential tools are the important mechanisms for maintaining a good mortgage environment,” wrote Paul M. Jacobson, a consulting economist and author of the C.D. Howe memo. “Their apparent success suggests that such policies should be continued. Modifications, if needed, should be based on continuous monitoring of the new mortgage approvals.”
On Thursday, Evan Siddall, CEO of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, wrote a letterto the federal government’s Standing Committee on Finance defending the current mortgage stress test guidelines.