Liberals look to put stamp on CMHC with new board focused on social housing

Canada’s housing agency is getting a makeover as the Liberals look to cement the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. as a vehicle to deliver more affordable housing to millions of Canadians.

The federal Liberals have named seven new members to the CMHC board of directors this week as they look to leave their stamp on the organization that has for decades been largely out of the social housing business.

A one-time head of Toronto’s social housing agency will become chairman of the board, two more appointments come from the world of co-operative financial institutions, and another member will be the current chancellor of Simon Fraser University.

All will take their place on the board between now and the end of April, when Derek Ballantyne officially takes over as chairman.

Ballantyne said the makeup of the board means that different parts of the housing sector will have a voice in implementing the national housing strategy that has CMHC as a key player.

The CMHC was at one time a focus of federal efforts in the social housing sector, but saw its role shift as the federal government scaled back its involvement and funding for affordable units.

The new board will be in charge of making sure agency officials do what their political masters have asked of them, while managing a corporate culture shift.

“In the end, when you’re developing housing, all housing development is similar. The difference being that if one is focused on the affordability there are certainly policy considerations and different economics,” Ballantyne said in an interview.

CMHC will be responsible for $5 billion of the $11.2 billion outlined in the 2017 budget for the housing strategy, with the goal of turning it into $15 billion by leveraging private, provincial and municipal investment. The extra money is roughly half of the matching funds the Liberals are relying on to meet their goal of building 100,000 new affordable housing units, and renovating 240,000 more.

The housing agency has already been involved in early designs of a $4-billion portable housing benefit. The Liberals hope it will help 300,000 households by 2028 by providing an average $2,500 a year in help, but only if provinces and territories match $2 billion in federal money and ensure the extra money doesn’t cause a jump in private rents.

CMHC is also being tasked with gathering as much data as possible about the Canadian housing market, from the levels of foreign ownership — the first batch of information was released Tuesday — to dealing with housing issues from a gender perspective.

Ballantyne said CMHC must also focus on its mortgage insurance business, part of managing the risks in the housing market.

“Being cognizant of what those (risks) are and understanding what has been a changing environment in this country in mortgage lending and the mortgage management pieces is critical.”

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