Welcome to March!

This month has definitely come in like a lion, I hope everyone stayed safe on the roads last week.  The driving conditions were not always ideal.

In K-W in February:
– the average single detached sold for $598,­­­­038 in 27 days
– the average semi-detached sold for $451,520 in 20 days
– the average freehold townhouse sold for $459,980 in 23 days
– the average condo sold for $332,801 in 26 days
–  the average list price to sale price was 100%

Part of the solution to the housing crisis is making sure people can get around by car

Despite the recent slowdown in home prices, housing affordability has not improved much in tight urban markets where prices and rents, relative to incomes, are still considerably high and rental vacancy rates are at record lows.

As a result, pundits expect housing affordability and mortgage stress tests to figure prominently as the political parties gear up for the October 2019 elections.

Though it might be tempting to focus just on the housing part of the equation, the other part — that is, affordability, which is tied to incomes and access to employment — also needs attention.

Access to employment opportunities that pay living wages is an important determinant of housing affordability. But with jobs scattered all over the urban landscape, accessing them by public transit remains, and will continue to be, a formidable challenge.

The private automobile offers better accessibility to jobs in North America than public transit. Research shows that those who rely on public transit to access jobs face a severely constrained set of choices that could adversely impact their ability to earn enough to pay for shelter. …

Yet despite the contradicting evidence, most planning authorities prescribe even more transit investments to help low-income earners get to jobs.

The planners assume, rather naively, that low-income workers would be better off commuting by transit than by car, given the high cost of car ownership. …

However, for accessing jobs, public transit serves downtowns better than other places. And as jobs have suburbanized, reaching them by transit is a formidable challenge for most workers. Equally important is that commutes by public transit are much slower than by cars. …

If public policy to improve housing affordability were to follow empirical evidence, recent research unreservedly shows that the journey is easier by car than by public transit.

Investing in public transit is important to support sustainable mobility in urban centres. However, this does not imply that the government should ignore the importance of maintaining and expanding the road networks that allow an overwhelming majority of workers to access jobs, earn a living and provide shelter for their families. …

March 5, Fat Tuesday
March 6, Ash Wednesday
March 7,  Indigenous Artist Barry Ace,  free public lecture, WLU
March 8, International Women’s Day
March 10, Daylight Savings begin, set your clocks forward an hour
March 11 – 15, March Break
March 14, International Pi Day
March 15, Ides of March
March 17, St Patrick’s Day
March 20, Vernal (Spring) Equinox
March 21, Purim
March 21, World Down Syndrome Day
March 21, Canada’s Climate Adaptation Gap: Reducing Flood Risk,  lecture at Albert McCormick
March 22, World Water Day
March 24, Singing with our Neighbours, Knox Church, donation fundraiser for Aboriginal Support at WLU
March 24, Chocolate Covered Raisin Day
March 25, Feats of the Annunciation
March 31, World Backup Day (computers – not traffic!!)

Conestoga Mall Hits $1k-Per-Square-Foot Productivity Milestone

The Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, Ontario, is the first shopping centre in Canada not located within a major metropolitan region to see annual sales per square foot surpass the $1,000 benchmark.

The Canadian Shopping Centre Study 2018, by the Retail Council of Canada, listed Conestoga as number 11 on the list of top productive malls in the country with sales per square foot at $1,016, up by 10.55 per cent from $919 the year before. …

Hold the panic: Maybe Canadians aren’t facing a debt insolvency crisis after all

For much of the last decade, Canadians have been told their debt levels were unsustainable and that their day of reckoning was fast approaching. Data recently released by the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy (OSB) seem to indicate that day has arrived. According to the data, insolvencies by Canadian consumers were up 9.2 per cent in October 2018, compared to a year earlier.

To say the least, these results appear alarming. But in light of what we know about homeownership and net worth, we are not so sure. The data show that Canadians’ net worth has never been higher. Moreover, the data do not distinguish between the more harmful economic effects from households in negative net asset positions, or balance sheet insolvency — where one remains in debt even after selling one’s assets — and cash-flow insolvency, better known as illiquidity. …

Much of Canadians’ assets are in the form of real estate. Although it is possible to refinance a home, it is of course impossible to sell a fraction of a house in order to help pay off consumer debt. So as interest rates rise, as they have in part due to five hikes to the overnight rate by the Bank of Canada since the middle of 2017, Canadian households start feeling the illiquidity pinch.

But that is not the same as balance sheet insolvency. For a Canadian household to truly be insolvent in this sense it would have to be the case that once they did sell their assets — real estate or otherwise — they were still unable to pay off their remaining debts. And here the data are unclear as the only distinction is between bankruptcies and consumer proposals, which are an alternative to bankruptcy where the lender and borrower strike a deal where the latter pays back a portion of their debt over the ensuing five years, and, critically, does not have to sell their house. …

By no means are we suggesting all is well. Indeed, consumer proposals were up across the country, and this fact should be reason enough to focus the minds of policy-makers. …

Millennials want help affording houses – here’s what the government should do

Politically, the federal government has to do something to make home buying more affordable.

The polling firm Abacus Data says millennials will make up the largest group of eligible voters in the election coming this fall, and housing affordability is their top priority. The government is under pressure to respond in a way that helps young people realize their urgent desire to become owners while preventing them from financially maiming themselves and the economy by purchasing homes they can’t properly afford.

The best thing the government could do for housing from a pure policy point of view is to maintain the status quo and see whether the cooling trend in sales continues. But that might not bring relief fast enough for all the people stressing about housing affordability.  …

Here’s how the government should help millennials buy a home: Leave the stress tests for mortgage applicants in place, but increase the maximum amortization period for people with small down payments to 30 years from 25. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is reportedly considering the 30-year option.

This isn’t an ideal approach because it will stimulate the market and probably cause prices to rise. But it will make housing more affordable on the whole and ease the financial pressure on new buyers. …

It’s true – longer amortization periods are bad personal finance because you pay more mortgage interest. But they also make houses more affordable by reducing the monthly costs of owning a home. …

11-storey apartment will add 173 rental units to Kitchener core

A new development at the edge of downtown will add 173 rental apartments to the housing supply in the core.

Developer Killam REIT plans to build an 11-storey building at Weber and Scott streets, on a site now occupied by a parking lot and vacant land.

The $17-million project will add 173 mainly one- and two-bedroom apartments, and will fill a gap in the local housing market, said Andrew Kent, associate director of developments for Killam REIT. “We think there’s room for good-quality rental housing. A lot of rental housing in the region was built a while ago.” …

There are no plans for affordable housing in the building, but the development will add life to a long-vacant lot, with a public plaza and pathway connecting Weber and Pearl Place, and a landscape buffer closest to homes along Pearl. The developer hopes to see a coffee shop or restaurant open on the ground floor.

Construction should begin by the end of 2019, with occupancy in 2021. …

Waterloo council slows down tax increase

Waterloo’s new council has tapped the brakes on rising taxes, imposing an increase in 2019 of 2.6 per cent in city taxation including drainage fees.

This is less than the typical annual increase of just over three per cent imposed by city council in its previous term. It matches the typical annual increase imposed in the past dozen years.

“We’re taking a balanced approach,” Mayor Dave Jaworsky said. …

The extra cost is $36 for a typical home, which includes $28 more in city taxation and $8 more in stormwater fees. A typical Waterloo home valued at $384,000 will pay $1,306 in city taxes this year. …

Council has more than doubled Waterloo’s drainage fee since 2015 to help prevent flooding. The fee, a former tax, will cost a typical Waterloo home $142 this year.

Region approves 2.97 per cent tax hike for 2019

The Region of Waterloo has approved a 2.97 per cent tax increase for 2019, including one per cent for police services.

The increase for regional services was 1.97 per cent over 2018, about the rate of inflation.

“I think that is a really good number,” said Coun. Sean Strickland, chair of the budget committee.

The budget, approved by council on Tuesday, will cost the average household an extra $59….

That includes adding two 12-hour ambulances and 10 paramedics to respond to the growing call volume, as well as increasing transit services by adding and realigning routes with Ion light rail and including Conestoga College in the universal bus pass program along with the two Waterloo universities. …

March’s Recipe
Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all purpose flour (can substitute 1/2 the all purpose flour with whole wheat)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, baking soda and salt. Make a well in middle of the flour, and add buttermilk all at once.

Use your hands to mix buttermilk into flour to form a soft dough.Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Lightly knead the dough a few times to make a smooth ball.

Place loaf onto parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. With sharp knife, score a large ‘X’ on the top of the dough. Bake in the centre of a 425 F (220 C) oven for about 35 minutes. The loaf is done when browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Serve warmed with butter and honey.

March Mayhem
Why do people wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day?
Real rocks are too heavy!

What type of bow cannot be tied?
A rain-bow!

Where can you always find gold?
In the dictionary!

What can be seen in the middle of March and April that cannot be seen at the beginning or end of either month
The letter R.

First-of-its-kind registry in B.C. targets under-the-radar condo flippers

The British Columbia government says it has launched Canada’s first registry aimed at cracking down on pre-sale property flipping and tax evasion in B.C.’s real estate market.

The Ministry of Finance says the Condo and Strata Assignment Integrity Register will improve fairness and transparency in property transactions.

Finance Minister Carol James said in a news release that the register will take “real action to moderate the condo market” and is already starting to see results in Metro Vancouver.

Condo developers will be required to securely gather and report the identity and citizenship of anyone completing a contract assignment in a project.

A contract assignment occurs when a buyer sells, or “flips,” their purchase contract of a condo to another buyer, often at a higher price, before construction of the building is complete.

Currently flipping can occur without any oversight and the province says the practice has been a factor in raising real estate prices while facilitating tax evasion when capital gains and other taxes are not applied.  …

Developers are now required to collect and record assignment information and file a report each quarter, with the first due April 30, covering the period from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2019.

“The B.C. government will use this information to ensure that people who assign condos are paying the appropriate income tax, capital gains and property transfer tax,” the release says.

The filing fee per assignment is $195, which the government says is a small fraction of the cost of flipping a condo unit.

Enjoy the rest of your week!













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