Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate tonight in the debate on Bill C-520, an Act to amend the Income Tax Act (Home Buyers' Plan), a private member's bill from the member for Delta—Richmond East.
As we have heard a number of times tonight, this private member's bill seeks to increase the eligible amount for the home buyers' plan from $20,000 to $25,000. That is the amount one would be able to take out of RSP savings to put toward a first home purchase. For couples who both have RSPs, that would mean from $40,000 to $50,000 to put toward their first home.
The money borrowed from the RSP has to be repaid over 15 years. If the yearly minimum is not paid, that balance has to be added to one's taxable income in that time. Also, if one defaults on the yearly repayment, that money cannot later be repaid into the RSP. It is lost to the RSP if there is default on the repayment plan.
The current limit was established when the program was created in 1992 and has not been adjusted for inflation since then. The $25,000 proposal is almost the adjustment for inflation. It would have been slightly higher than $25,000, but that is the overall intention of this legislation.
I have to say that it seems to be a reasonable proposal from the member and it is supportable. Over its existence, this has been an important program for millions of Canadians. It has helped many people enter the housing market for the first time. In fact, the Canadian Real Estate Association has reported that 1.8 million Canadians have used this plan since it was first created. That has resulted in over 900,000 home purchases.
One of the concerns that has been raised, and the member from Delta—Richmond East raised it as well, is that upon analysis of the home ownership rate, one can see that it increased between 1991 and 2001, the year statistics are most readily available, from 62.3% to 66.1%. However, when one looks more closely at the statistics, one sees that it is older folks who benefited most in terms of moving into home ownership. People aged 55 and older benefited most from being able to move into home ownership in that period.
Therefore, it is hard to say that a program like this actually increased the ability of younger folks to purchase a first home, since the rate of first home ownership in all the other age groups actually went down, most significantly in the lower age group. It is of concern that this may not have addressed one of the intended purposes, which was to ensure that younger Canadians were able to enter the housing market for the first time.
There were concerns raised about this program when it was first implemented. A number of analysts saw it as a regressive program and said that it was in fact more helpful to wealthy Canadians, to people who are most likely to be able to set aside money for their retirement in an RSP, than it was for other Canadians of more modest incomes or low incomes. A lot of those folks are not able to put money aside in an RSP. A lot of those folks do not qualify for mortgages as easily as wealthier Canadians and therefore would not have the ability to access this program.
In a sense, then, as an affordability measure of increasing the availability of Canadians to participate in the housing market, it is not well targeted. It does not target the folks who are most in need in terms of ensuring they have a home and a roof over their heads. Other programs, such as tax credits or homeowner grants, would work much better in terms of targeting people and ensuring an affordable housing approach to this kind of program.
We also need to point out that younger Canadians, the original target group for this program, face significant student loan issues because student loans have risen dramatically in recent years. I think the average debt of most students after they graduate from university is $24,000, which increases their difficulty to take advantage of an RRSP.
Similarly, child care expenses for young families are rising. Many young families need to put significant resources into child care, which limits their ability to put money into an RRSP.
We also need to look at how people's ability to make repayments affects their retirement savings. Some of the information that I saw, albeit early on in the program, showed that almost one-third of the participants in the program failed to make their yearly required repayments and, by defaulting on the amount, the amount went into their taxable income. I think one-fifth of the total amount due was defaulted on back in 1995.
When people default on their repayments, that money in their retirement savings is lost and it cannot be backfilled. People cannot go back years later and put that money back into their retirement savings. Their ability to contribute is lost for the year they defaulted on the repayment. That is something else we should look at. We should get more up to date information on the failure to make repayments and find out how that affects people's retirement income generally as a result of their participation in the homebuyer's plan.
Housing prices have skyrocketed, particularly in some urban centres. We have already heard that there is relatively more help for people who live in an area where the real estate market is not as hot as it is in a place like Burnaby. There is significantly more assistance to people in a real estate market that is a little calmer than the one in metro Vancouver for instance. This might be another issue for us to take a look at when we are examining this program and how it has worked.
The homebuyer's program has been important for millions of Canadians. Many people have been able to buy their first home partly because of the assistance they received through the homebuyer's plan and the fact that they were able to use some of their RRSP savings to purchase their first home.
This is only a piece of the puzzle when we are looking at the housing crisis in Canada. There is a significant problem with finding affordable housing. Far too many Canadian families are spending too much of their income on housing. Thousands of Canadians are homeless and many more are in danger of becoming homeless.
A measure like this, while it is important, does not address those needs in particular and certainly does not replace the need for a national housing program that would actually build affordable housing for people already spending too much of their income and who are at risk of becoming homeless. Nothing can replace that kind of participation by the federal government.
I was disappointed to see in the most recent budget that the federal government made no new commitment to a national housing program. The only measure in the budget is a very limited pilot project.
I am also very concerned that the government has made no commitment to extend the residential rehabilitation assistance program beyond next year, a program that helps people upgrade their homes and ensure they are still liveable.
As these programs are significant to Canadians, we need a commitment from the government that these programs will be in place in the coming year.
Nothing can replace those commitments: the commitment to build homes for the homeless and the commitment to programs that help Canadians stay in their homes now. We need to ensure those commitments are not forgotten as we address this specific measure that, undoubtedly, has been of assistance to many Canadians as they enter the housing market for the first time. This program is an important piece of the puzzle around housing in Canada but it is a small piece. We also need to ensure that other important and critical issues are addressed when we look at housing policy in Canada.