As we close out 2023, which could be described as a year of shifting tides, it’s time for a market update.
First the obvious: Higher borrowing costs courtesy of 10 Bank of Canada rate increases along with persistent inflation are challenging the fundamentals of more projects. The potential of a higher-for-longer interest rate cycle cannot be ignored.
However, at the same time, we are confident that multifamily residential properties are best positioned to swim against the tide. While not immune from broader economic forces, multifamily remains a preferred asset class. This is reflected in our volumes to date in 2023. Thanks to our many clients in the sector and year-to-date new originations over $7 billion, First National’s commercial mortgages under administration reached $47.4 billion, as per our most recent public report issued last evening. That’s a new record and up 14% year over year.
We are incredibly proud to be part of exciting multifamily projects across the country, knowing that rental housing is vitally important to Canadians and that First National is recognized as the market’s reliable lending leader in the space.
It is also gratifying to see policymakers recognize that with substantial growth in Canada’s population, financial support for new unit construction is not only necessary in this tougher economic climate, it forms an integral part of good public governance for the future. In our view, Canada’s affordability crisis will only be solved by the creation and preservation of purpose-built rental.
New incentives for new rental construction
With the persistent urging of many market participants, First National among them, the federal government recently introduced legislation to enhance the GST Rental Rebate and remove the GST on new rental housing projects. This includes apartment buildings, student and senior residences constructed between September 14, 2023 and year-end 2035.
We think these are incremental steps in the right direction. I say incremental because the GST only represents 3% of a typical construction budget. Given the headwinds created by higher interest rates, the elimination of the GST alone is unlikely to result in a sea-change for development activity. It is mostly at the margin, on committed projects, that these changes will matter in the short run and that is what many of our clients are telling us today.
In regions where provincial sales tax is also levied, its concurrent elimination would reduce costs 8% to 9% on a typical construction project. So far, we are aware that the governments of Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland are willing to adjust or hopefully remove their provincial sales taxes on rental project construction. However, Saskatchewan and Quebec say they are not considering such a move, which is unfortunate.
Notably, Alberta does not charge PST and this year stands out as one of First National’s most active markets.
All of that aside, we strongly believe more needs to be done by policymakers at all levels, including municipal governments which have the power to expedite development approvals. No less than CMHC itself is on the record saying Canada needs to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2030 to restore affordability. That’s a lot of housing in a very short time and will take an all-hands-on-deck approach.
CMHC, for its part, is managing through unprecedented demand for its multifamily programs, an outcome we predicted at the outset of 2023 that was fully realized in June as borrower applications soared in advance of premium increases. With current review times, it looks likely that the final two months of 2023 and the early months of 2024 will be exceptionally busy for CMHC fundings. For clients who require financing earlier, First National’s bridge-to-CMHC financing programs can be a great alternative.
Welcome news from the Department of Finance
On September 26th, the Department of Finance announced the annual cap for Canada Mortgage Bonds would increase to $60 billion from its current level of $40 billion. The majority of multifamily mortgages in Canada are CMHC insured and the majority of those are funded through the CMB program. We are told that every dime of this additional (annual) $20 billion will be earmarked for multifamily, making this a milestone development that assures more low-cost financing will be accessible for rental projects.
For First National, which is an active issuer of National Housing Act Mortgage-Backed Securities and the largest seller into the CMB program, it will mean the arrival of additional 10-year money and greater liquidity to fund the very large deals (over $75 million) that are becoming commonplace in the multifamily space.
This is welcome news with more details to follow from the government on timing.
Early and often are the watchwords
This brings me back to where I started this update. We must be prepared for a higher/longer interest rate cycle that will further challenge the economics of new construction, add more pressure on cap rates and may well lead to an increase in defaults. Capital structures that worked in the recent past may not be adequate going forward.
Under the circumstances, my advice for anyone planning to renew a mortgage or borrow in 2024 is to plan early – as in six to eight months before funds are required. Proactively strategizing with your First National advisor will empower you to secure the best financing with the best rates and features on a timeline that best meets your requirements.
By consulting with us early and often, we can swim against the tide together and land safely on the other side of economic swells still to come. To assist with the planning process, we are pleased to announce the return of First National’s Early Rate Lock options for hedging purposes.
Speaking on behalf of my First National colleagues, thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve your financing needs.