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First-time homebuyer incentive discontinued: CMHC

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OTTAWA -

Canada's housing agency says it is ending the first-time homebuyer incentive program.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says the deadline for new or updated submissions to the program is midnight eastern time on March 21.

The plan was meant to help reduce monthly mortgage payments for first-time buyers by having the government take on partial ownership of a property.

The government offered a loan up to 10 per cent of the purchase price that would go toward a larger down payment and thereby reduce monthly payments.

Under the program, homeowners have to repay the incentive after 25 years or when the property is sold, with the amount owing adjusted to reflect how the value of the property has changed.

The program was hampered in part by eligibility issues including limits to household income and the size of a mortgage the buyer could take on.

Total borrower income couldn't be higher than $120,000, or $150,000 in Toronto, Vancouver or Victoria, while the total borrowing could be no more than four times the qualifying income, or 4.5 times in the three pricey cities.

The program wasn't useful since it didn't help buyers put together a minimum down payment, and the restrictions meant some borrowers qualified for smaller amounts than they otherwise would, said James Laird, co-CEO of Ratehub.ca and president of CanWise mortgage lender.

The government-ownership component also added complications to a convoluted program that was poorly thought out, he said.

"It was literally like they sat in a room by themselves, without anyone who understood the industry, and just made up a bunch of stuff that made no sense," said Laird.

The government already helps first-time buyers by backing uninsured mortgages, but if they want to do more they could allow amortizations to be stretch out over 30 years, he said.

"It lowers the monthly cost ... and there's no complicated co-ownership agreement."

CMHC did not immediately provide comment.

The first-time homebuyer incentive was launched in 2019 with a $1.25-billion commitment.

As of the end of 2022, CMHC had committed $329 million representing about 18,500 applications.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

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