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Mortgage trends

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty this morning announced some stricter rules for Canadians to get mortgages.

He is probably trying to prevent situations leading to headlines like this:

"One in five U.S. mortgages underwater in Q4"

The Vanier Institute of the Family also released today its annual assessment of family finances in Canada suggesting we are more in debt than ever before and defaulting on mortgages and credit card debt more often.

But we have to keep this all in perspective. The Canadian Bankers Association releases monthly statistics on mortgages in arrears. They are mortgages provided by seven mortgage lenders in the country - Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank, TD Bank, CIBC, ScotiaBank, National Bank of Canada, Manulife Bank and HSBC Bank of Canada. So it doesn't include all mortgages but would reflect a majority of them.

The most recent statistics available, for November 2009, showed in Canada 0.44 per cent of mortgages offered by those seven lenders are in arrears meaning they are at least three months behind in payments. It totals 17,747 mortgages out of the 3, 992, 985 mortgages in place.

That is up from 0.31 per cent in November 2008 (12,048 in arrears) and 0.26 per cent in November 2007 (9,862 in arrears).

So the number has definitely risen in the last two years, and 17,747 Canadian families behind on their mortgage payments isn't something to sneeze at. But it still suggests the vast majority of Canadians are doing okay when it comes to paying for their homes.

It's also not the worst it has ever been. That distinction goes to the months of January 1997 and February 1992, when 0.65 per cent of mortgages were in arrears.

Manitoba, where economists have consistently said the recession had the least impact, has the second lowest percentage of mortgages in arrears in the country at 0.29 per cent. Saskatchewan was the lowest at 0.27 per cent. Manitoba's percentage is up from 0.2 per cent in November 2008 and 0.19 per cent in November 2007.

There were 317 mortgages in arrears in Manitoba in November.

What else can I glean from these stats? Well, nearly three times as many Canadians have a mortgage now as they did 20 years ago. (1.4 million in January 1990 compared to four million in November 2009).

Alberta's economy fared the worst for homeowners anyway as mortgages in arrears went from 0.17 per cent in November 2007 (the second lowest in the country) to 0.72 per in November 2009 (the highest in the country.)

In Alberta the number of mortgages went up six per cent in two years and the number of people in default went up 352 per cent.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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