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Jeremy Wedgbury’s key observations from the C.D. Howe Institute panel

  • First National Financial LP

The C.D. Howe Institute, Canada’s most influential think tank, hosted a special panel on August 24, 2020 to address the question “How will the pandemic impact real estate in Canada’s urban centres?” Panelists included Romy Bowers, Senior Vice-President, Client Solutions, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Jeremy Wedgbury, Senior Vice President, Commercial Mortgages. Here are Jeremy’s key observations.

New apartment construction in Canada has not been as robust as it needs to be to accommodate  strong demand among immigrants, millennials and retirees, in part because it is expensive to build in downtown areas and the result has been low vacancy and accelerated rental rate inflation over the past three years.

Since March, COVID-19 has had an impact on demand for rental apartments in part because of lower immigration due to border restrictions as well as millennials choosing to stay with their parents and retirees opting to maintain home equity.

Lower demand will be temporary, but during this lull, rental-rate inflation in urban markets such as downtown Toronto, where rates have risen from $3 per square foot 3 years ago to over $4 today, will be curbed.

Smaller cities outside Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal may benefit from some population movement related to COVID-19 but there will continue to be strong demand for downtown living.

Alberta’s multi-unit market has suffered more than other areas of Canada due to COVID-19 coupled with the economic impact of lower oil prices and while vacancy rates are relatively higher, rent receipts have also been high thanks to government wage subsidies.

As a coast-to-coast lender – Canada’s largest non-bank – First National has set new records for both single-family and commercial origination this year and has done so with its workforce operating from home since March.

The work-from-home movement will likely lead apartment builders to consider interior design changes to accommodate in-suite office space and rethink common spaces such as gyms.

Bringing employees back to the office offers significant advantages including in culture development, employee training and recruitment and for most companies will occur as soon as the benefits outweigh the risks posed by COVID-19.

CMHC has been very supportive of the multi-unit sector and as Canada’s largest CMHC approved multi-unit lender, First National continues to make good use of the national housing agency’s programs to help property developers and owners buy, build and renovate apartments.

CMHC’s policy change this spring to prohibit equity take-outs on multi-unit properties puts the onus on the conventional lending market to fill this need and has not impacted the ability of First National to secure insured financing for clients wishing to construct new units, renovate existing properties or achieve term financing.

Through the first six months of 2020, First National originated and renewed over $16 billion of mortgages and is on track for a strong year of growth in both residential and commercial markets.

If you wish to know more about Jeremy's views of how COVID-19 may affect urbanization and the apartment sector in Canada, please contact your First National advisor.