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House affordability improving in some parts of Canada, National Bank says

Amid the continuing escalation in housing prices in the Vancouver and Toronto areas, there are some places in Canada where home affordability is improving, National Bank said Wednesday in a new report.
Mortgage rates probably won't be dramatically changed by the Bank of Canada's benchmark overnight rate, held at 0.5%, economists say. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Amid the continuing escalation in housing prices in the Vancouver and Toronto areas, there are some places in Canada where home affordability is improving, National Bank said Wednesday in a new report.

Six of 10 markets surveyed showed improvement in affordability, the bank said, with the biggest improvements seen in Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa-Gatineau.

Pockets of affordability emerge

The bank's gauge of affordability is the percentage of income required for a monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home, assuming a 25-year amortization and a five-year term.

In Calgary, which has been hit hard by the dramatic drop in oil prices, the the mortgage payment stood at 28.2 per cent of income for the first quarter of this year. That was off by 0.7 percentage points from the last quarter of 2015, and down by 2.2 percentage points from the first three months of last year, the bank said.

Montreal homes have become the most affordable in a decade- National Bank

In Montreal, the first quarter drop was 0.5 percentage points from the end of last year, the same  decline seen in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

"Montreal homes have become the most affordable in a decade," National Bank economists Matthieu Arseneau and Kyle Dahms said in their report.

They also said Calgary's percentage of income needed for a monthly payment is now at a record low.

In an interview with Dianne Buckner on CBC News Network's The Exchange, Arseneau said the reasons for the improved affordability in Montreal and Calgary differ.

Montreal home prices have not gone up much since 2013, while incomes have increased and interest rates are relatively low, he said.  

Meanwhile, Calgary is seeing prices decline right now, he said. 

Nationally, the portion of income increased by 0.1 percentage points to 31 per cent in the first three months of the year, the bank said. That followed a increase of 0.8 percentage points in the last three months of 2015.

Vancouver and Toronto continue to see soaring prices, and eroding affordability, the bank said.

In Vancouver, the percentage of income required is very close to the top of  range in recent years, while in Toronto that percentage is now at a 20-year high.

National also said that affordability of homes in Vancouver and Toronto has taken a further hit from the new measure requiring a minimum down payment of 10 per cent for the portion of the purchase price between $500,000 and $1 million. 

"As a result, the time required to accumulate a minimum down payment for the representative home increased in [the first quarter of this year] by 11 months in Toronto and by 34 months in Vancouver," the bank said.

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