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Great Teams Achieve Great Results

Stefanie Coleman, 2019 CHBA President
Canadian Home Builders' Association 76th National Conference - Niagara Falls, Ontario
May 9, 2019

Distinguished guests, friends and colleagues – I am proud and honoured to stand here today as the President of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

Getting to this place has been a quite a journey, and one where I have benefited from being part of a great team – CHBA’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors.

I want to begin by acknowledging Nathan Stone for his leadership over the last year.  Nathan is a guy with a big heart, and someone who knows our industry from the ground up.  His experience, and his passion for the business, have been a huge asset to CHBA.

Nathan, I know I speak for all the members of our Association when I say “thank you” for your commitment, your hard work and your passion for home building.  I look forward to continuing our work together during my Presidential term.

I’d also want to thank Kevin Lee, as CEO of our national association, and his staff, for their continuing hard work.  We have an amazing team of talented and dedicated people working in Ottawa, on behalf of all members.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the professional staff and volunteer leaders at HBAs right across the country, and thank them for their continuing hard work in making our Association so effective.  You folks are amazing!

I’ve had the chance to visit some of you already, and I look forward to visiting with many more of you, and our members, over the coming year.

This morning we heard from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his governments perspective on housing and our industry.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be hearing from Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservatives, on his party’s views on housing.

I think that having both these national leaders come to our conference says a lot about how important housing issues are to Canadians right now, the central role our industry plays in Canada’s economy, and the work our Association has done to bring the issue of housing affordability to Parliament Hill and MPs from coast to coast.

With a federal election on the horizon, our Association has a busy year ahead.  We will be working to ensure that housing is front-and-centre in the election campaign, and that the issues that concern CHBA members, and their customers, are fully addressed by all parties.

Today, I’ll touch broadly on the key issues that your Association is working on at the national level.

I want to begin my remarks today by sharing my own perspective on our industry, and what makes us both unique and incredibly important in the lives of Canadians.

Whether you are home builder, a renovator, a tradesperson, or are involved in housing-related services, there are many different pathways into our industry.

Traditionally, a lot of us are quite literally born into the business.  Another large portion begin their very first job in the industry, and work their way up over the years.

However, some of us come to this great industry with very different backgrounds.

I did not start my career in the home building business, nor was I born into a family of builders.  I had trained and worked in fashion design and fashion retail for many years, a business that, like residential construction, is fast-paced, demanding and not without its risks.

Despite having a career that was well-established, I found myself wanting more.

While the world of fashion may be exciting, it lacks permanence because clothes are, increasingly, a ‘disposable’ product.

I wanted my work to have a more permanent impact on people; to provide them with something that was more enduring and meaningful.

It was that desire, and a suggestion from my sister who works in the building materials area, that led me to move from Winnipeg to St. Thomas, Ontario and brought me into the home renovation business in 2005.

While on one level, a switch from fashion to home renovation may seem a bit of a stretch, on many other levels it made perfect sense.

It’s all about providing customers with what they need, while satisfying both their practical and lifestyle ‘wants’.  The key difference being that, as a builder, I can make a difference in their lives that lasts a lifetime, not just a season.

That’s what first drew me to the renovation business.  But it’s the people I’ve met along the way that have made me feel that this is where I belong.

Right after I made the decision to become a renovator, I also made one of the best decisions of my career – I joined the St. Thomas & Elgin Home Builders’ Association.

The fashion industry can be very pretentious, but the home building business is the complete opposite. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how big of a company you have, people in this industry are grounded.

So many of those I met in my local HBA went out of their way to give a rookie, like I was, a lot of advice, help and encouragement.  This is something I’ll always be grateful for.

I found out that, in our Association, fellow renovators aren’t competition, we’re colleagues. HBA members were welcoming, open, and more than willing to share their knowledge.

I soon began building relationships that helped me to learn, and boosted my confidence and my success in business.

Coming from outside the industry, at mid-career, gives you ‘fresh eyes’ to the whole experience.

And what I saw among my many HBA colleagues is that, in our industry, we work with our heads and our hearts.

It’s more than just a business, it’s a calling.  And that’s something that is very special, and which we should never lose sight of.

Providing Canadians with the place they call home, where their family memories are made, and their lives lived, is a noble calling.

We make peoples lives better, every day.
While we may not always get the recognition we deserve for the positive difference we make in peoples’ lives, this is something we should be incredibly proud of this.

I’m sure that everyone here who builds or renovates homes, or develops new communities, has stories they can tell.  I know I do.

I remember one client; a single woman with a disabled son, for who we built a small addition to her wartime house.

It meant her son had access to a laundry room on the main floor of their home, and could live a bit more independently.  It was a tiny addition, not a big project by any means.

But a few years later, after her son had, unfortunately, passed away, she told me how much this had meant to them.  That it made a real difference in their lives.

Those are the special moments in our business.

The moments that make all the hard work worth it.  When we can see in someone’s eyes that we’ve just made their life a bit better and a bit happier.

It’s also reinforces something that is fundamentally true about the home building business.  When our industry is succeeding and doing well, it’s because Canadians are succeeding and doing well.

What this means is that the right housing policy for our industry is pretty straight forward – it simply reflects what Canadians want.

We want Canadians to be able to live in a home that meets their needs, at a cost they can afford, and in the community they want to be part of.

So do they.

This holds whether they are looking to rent, buy or renovate, and whether their family has lived here for generations, or has just recently arrived.

It’s as simple as that.

In Canada, home ownership is synonymous with being middle class.  It’s just ‘part of the package’.  And, again, this holds true for native-born and newcomer equally.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, the promise of home ownership is not as achievable today as it should be.  For many hard-working and well-educated Canadians, particularly younger people, the door to home ownership has been locked shut.

And this is through no fault of their own.

Within the industry, and in our dealings with governments, we talk a lot about ‘declining affordability’.  And we pull together lots of statistics and graphs of our own and from other industry experts, tracking the status of declining housing affordability across our cities and provinces.

While we, in the industry, may understand exactly what this all means, I suspect it seems somewhat abstract and clinical if you’re a young Mom or Dad worried about where you are going to raise your family.

Or if you are a newly minted university graduate wondering if all those years of study will, someday, let you move out of your dingy basement apartment and into a home or condo of your own.

It’s important to remember that when we talk about declining housing affordability, we’re not just referring to economic indicators, we’re talking about people.

And what we’re really pointing to is a fundamental breakdown of what being middle-class in Canada has always meant.

For generations, we have assumed that if we get a good education, and work hard, we can own a home that meets our needs, and be part of the community we want to belong to.  That assumption has long been both a central and essential part of the ‘Canadian Dream’.

Allowing this dream to fade, even a little bit, is not good public policy.  It’s not good for our communities.  It’s not good for our economy.  And yes, it’s not good for our industry.

But most importantly, it’s not good for Canadians.  And it isn’t what they want.

If there is a ‘silver lining’ to the growing housing affordability crisis across Canada, it’s that things have reached a point where everyone involved, starting with our industry, but reaching out to average Canadian families and to elected officials at all levels of government, know that it’s time for change.

The participation of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition here at our Conference drive this point home.

The issue of housing affordability is something everyone ‘gets’.  And for those under 35, in the Millennial generation, it is the absolute top political issue on their minds.

This broad recognition that things need to change provides us with a valuable opportunity.

It creates the momentum for some really constructive conversations about how to get affordability back on track, and unlock the door to home ownership, particularly for younger first-time buyers.

This is not to say the job will be easy, or solutions will be put in place quickly.  There’s a big and difficult challenge, and it will take time and effort to get results.

First, and most obviously, housing is complex.

In Canada, the federal government has the greatest financial resources, while the provincial governments have the greatest jurisdiction on housing policies, and local governments have the power of zoning and approval.

To really ‘fix’ affordability, we need to see all of them work together toward common goals.

That’s not how things have worked for a long time, and changing this will be no easy task.

We also need housing policies that recognize, and accommodate, the economic and social diversity that exists across the country.

This means an end to ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to mortgage rules, and of economic policies that focus on the needs or challenges of one region or urban centre, at the expense of others.

And it means significant changes to how we get to smarter regulation in home building, both in terms of the development process, and also in relation to building codes and standards.

Affordability must become the benchmark for all governments, whenever they take actions that impact housing, whether it be access to mortgage financing, or policies that affect housing supply.

More than anything else, when it comes to housing, it’s time for more collaboration among governments and a lot more common sense.

And, in practical terms, that means making improved affordability a shared and primary goal.

We know that government policies affect virtually every aspect of the home building and renovation business.

We also know that all three levels of government play different roles in relation to housing.

While this makes it really difficult to pull together effective housing policy that works for Canadians, this is the challenge CHBA is putting to governments.  Get your acts together and start working cooperatively to address all the factors that are pushing affordability in the wrong direction.

At the federal level, that means rethinking the current restrictive approach to mortgage financing, particularly in relation to younger, first-time buyers.

This spring’s Federal Budget recognized how diminished affordability is hurting first-time buyers, and it included some measures that may help over time.

While it is good that housing affordability was front-and-centre in the budget, these measures were not enough.  While it is good to see recognition and some action at the federal level, much more is needed.

The current mortgage stress test imposed on both conventional and insured mortgages needs to be updated to reflect current market realities.

CHBA has made very specific recommendations for how this should be done, which are prudent and would act to reduce default risk, while allowing two-thirds of those ‘knocked-out’ of the market by the current test to qualify, and unlock the door to home ownership.

We also continue to call for the return of 30-year amortization for insured mortgages for first-time buyers.

The federal mortgage insurance system was created, in large part, to help first-time buyers achieve responsible home ownership, but it no longer delivers on this.

It’s time to restore the system to its original purpose.  This involves no risk, and simply puts insured borrowers on the same footing as those taking out conventional mortgages.

And unlike the proposed First Time Home Buyers Incentive, or shared-appreciation mortgage scheme, announced in the budget, bringing back insured 30-year amortization could be put in place this afternoon, not in six months.

And this could help many more well qualified first-time homebuyers, right now.

At the provincial and local levels, CHBA looks forward to working with HBAs to see some common sense returned to the land development process, both in terms of increased speed and efficiency, and in a more measured approach to new home taxes.

We’ve know for many years that, in Canada’s most active urban markets, supply constraints are a huge problem.

Simply put, all too often the new homes that are needed, and that our members want to build, can’t be built in a reasonable timeframe.  This has predictable impacts on both the price of housing, and the ability of many to find a suitable home they can afford that is actually in their community.

Through the ongoing work of HBAs across the country, governments have finally begun to open their eyes to the key role that supply constraints play in creating unbalanced markets.

Now we need government decision-makers to follow-through with the regulatory reforms, planning changes and development tax adjustments required to actually fix things.

CHBA has long taken the lead on these important issues.  Today, we have an increasingly large portion of the Canadian public on our side.

Housing affordability is a huge public issue.  And at the local, provincial and national levels, our Association is offering real solutions.

As we move into election-mode federally, and with new governments in place in many provinces across the country, we have a great opportunity to connect with the public about the housing issues that concern them.

We can ensure that anyone standing for office will need to make their position on these issues, and what they propose to do about them, crystal clear.

I also want to touch on what we are achieving together on the renovation side of our industry.

As a renovator, I was incredibly pleased to see CHBA and BILD-GTA form a partnership to take the RenoMark program to the next level.

RenoMark has made significant strides in setting Association renovators and contractors apart.

With this solid foundation in place, it’s the right time to build on it by taking it to the next level, providing more confidence to consumers, providing our renovators with more professional development opportunities, and bringing still more of the recognition that our members deserve.

The pending launch of the Canadian Aging in Place Specialist,or C-CAPS program will mark another milestone of the Association’s leadership on the renovation front.

With the number of seniors in Canada set to nearly double in the next decade or so, aging-in-place renovations will be the next big business opportunity for our members.

By creating a Canadian program that will train and credential members who want to take on this work, we help them grow their business while providing Canadians with an incredibly valuable service.

I am very excited to be taking on the presidency as this starts to role out.

In closing, let me say that I’m looking forward to the year ahead enthusiastically.  There’s a lot to be done, but together we’re building momentum to achieve the things that matter to both our members and their customers.  It’s a good place to be.

And I want to thank each of you here today – the leaders of our industry from across the country – for what you give to the Association, and to our members.

Each of you takes time out of your business day, and away from your family, to be part of the CHBA team.

What you bring to the Association is priceless – it’s your experience, your knowledge and your passion for the home building business.

This is what makes us so strong and so effective – your generosity, your willingness to lend a hand, and your commitment.

Each of you make a real difference, and collectively, you are an awesome team!

We have become very good at working together, at the local, provincial and national levels, to fight to keep our industry healthy as we seek to provide Canadians with the homes they want, at a price they can afford to pay, whether these are newly built, or renovated.

We are organized to deal effectively with governments on the issues that really matter today –  from building regulations, to development processes, to how our customers finance their homes.

It’s a lot of work, and it seems to never end, but I know we are are ‘up’ to the challenge.

In all of our work, we share a common commitment – that for Canadians, owning a home is a good thing, and all hardworking Canadians should have a reasonable opportunity to become home owners.

Homeownership remains central to the Canadian experience and lifestyle.  And, collectively, we’re the people who make this happen for hundreds of thousands of Canadians every year.

It’s something to be very proud of, it’s something worth fighting to protect.  And I’m looking forward to helping make this happen, working with all of you, over the next year.

Thank you.