Minister can’t say if foreign buyer tax will affect housing market

TORONTO — Ontario’s finance minister can’t say how much a tax on foreign homebuyers — the centrepiece of the Liberal government’s new package of housing measures — will affect the red-hot Greater Toronto Area market.

Economists and real estate experts have raised questions about the effectiveness of the new 15-per-cent levy, pointing to the government self-admitted lack of housing data.

When asked on Friday whether the government had any evidence to suggest foreign speculators were driving up house prices in the region, Finance Minister Charles Sousa cited a survey by the Toronto Real Estate Board that suggested foreigners were involved in about five per cent of property purchases.

“Non-Canadians who are investing here are playing a role, so we’re taking that to heart,” Sousa said in an interview.

The Toronto Real Estate Board — which represents about 45,000 realtors and brokers — said its survey of 3,500 members, conducted late last year, found that 4.9 per cent of transactions in the Greater Toronto Area involved foreign buyers.

The board called that a minimal amount and not detrimental to the housing market.

“From our standpoint we feel that any public policy decision that’s pointed at the housing market should have some empirical evidence to back up the issue and from our perspective, beyond our survey we haven’t seen that,” the board’s market analysis director Jason Mercer said Friday.

Starting this week, homebuyers are required to give information about their residency and citizenship status and how they intend to use the property. Sousa said the government will now be able to assess “the degree and the impact” foreign buyers have on the market

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