CMHC's Housing Exposure Is Steadily Being Hiked Back, Report Shows

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It wasn't that long ago that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) was reaching the limit of what it could insure in the Canadian housing market.

But the Crown corporation has ramped back its insurance in recent years as CEO Evan Siddall focuses on its exposure to risky housing markets across the country.

The CMHC notes in its 2015 annual report, which was released Monday, that insurance-in-force, or the amount of insurance that has been issued by the provider, stood at $526 billion last year.

That was down from $543 billion in 2014, and $557 billion in 2013.

cmhc insurance in force

By law, the CMHC can only have $600 billion worth of insurance issued at any one time. Insurance-in-force had been even higher before, at $567 billion in 2011 and $566 billion in 2012.

The corporation aims to have only $516 billion worth of insurance-in-force this year.

Insurance-in-force decreased in 2015 as new loans totaled $55 billion, while pay downs and loan amortizations were $72 billion.

vancouver real estate
A home for sale in Vancouver in 2010. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)

The Financial Post noted that Siddall, who started as CEO in 2014, has focused on limiting the corporation's exposure to the housing market.

To that end, he increased insurance premiums by 15 per cent in 2014 and then hiked premiums on mortgages whose down payments were less than 10 per cent the following year.

His actions came as federal government officials became increasingly concerned about how much taxpayers were exposed to housing markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, which experts have said are overvalued.

They also came as worries grew around Canadian household debt, which sat at 165.4 per cent of income at the end of last year. That was the fastest year of debt growth the country had seen since 2011, according to The Globe and Mail.

And it means that Canadians, on average, owe $1.65 for every dollar they have in disposable income.

toronto real estate

In a conference call, officials with the CMHC said they would continue to study the issue of foreign ownership of real estate, which is believed to be hurting affordability in Vancouver and Toronto, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In its report, it touted its study of foreign ownership in condo markets in 16 of Canada's biggest real estate markets.

The issue of foreign ownership, however, is largely linked to single-family detached properties.

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