Desjardin’s new chief economist is an optimist – on house prices and racial justice

Jimmy Jean is possibly the first black chief economist at a major Canadian financial institution, and he uses his new platform to talk about house prices, persistence – and PK Subban.

Jean – pronounced in the French way, and not like denim – has just been appointed vice-president and chief economist of the Mouvement Desjardins at the very moment when the Montreal cooperative, the largest in North America, aims to extend its influence to across the country.

He has worked at the bank for 10 years, most recently as a Senior Economist. But given that chief economists so often become the public face of their institutions, and the field of economics tends to be fairly white, it will stand out.

That’s a good thing for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because he has an important vision for the direction of the housing market in Canada, what it does for us and our economy and how to fix it.

A home, he says, is not just something Canadians want for shelter. It is also a tax-advantaged retirement savings instrument for many families. It’s also a source of comfort – during the pandemic in particular, having decent housing may well have gotten the upper hand over COVID-19.

Canadians know this intuitively. But we also know that in many markets across the country we are surrounded by chatter of bidding wars, sky-high prices, and lightning-fast sales – all of this adds up to a disturbing picture of wealth for us. some and financial strain for others. .

Only some people can afford to buy, and the recent erosion of housing affordability also means that wealth inequality – which is already moving in the wrong direction due to those hardest hit by the pandemic – has become even more rooted.

The Desjardins affordability index shows a deterioration in all cities across the country during the first three months of the year, with rising house prices exceeding disposable income. This is a change from last year, when rising incomes were able to keep pace with rising house prices, at least at the macroeconomic level.

National Bank Financial indices show similar results, with a standard house in Toronto now costing $ 1.1 million. You have to earn about $ 184,000 to buy this kind of house. Saving for a down payment will take you around 297 months.

“There is a question of fairness,” says Jean. Young people can only access a market like this if they have parental support.

“The typical family in Canada wants to live in a single family home in a good neighborhood. There is a failure there.

And while some forecasters and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation see some of the pressure dissipating over the course of the year, they also expect house prices stabilize at high levels – often unaffordable.

The solutions are less than tasty.

Of course, more transparent auctions, so buyers can know what they’re up against, would help somewhat, Jean says.

But the underlying problem is that the population is growing faster than houses are being built, and no one seems to have a cohesive plan on how to increase supply, notes Jean. And what is a social issue for families is also a competitiveness issue for the country.

It’s because Canada is trying to attract more and more immigrants into the workforce, which was already a challenge now that US President Joe Biden has reversed some of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Expensive housing makes it even more so.

Without governments coming together to dramatically increase housing supply, sort out municipal zoning issues, and tie it all together in a strategy that eases the path for families looking to enter the housing market, “it will be a long time.” way, a long journey. “

Jean knows all about long journeys, working tirelessly and hard to successfully break into a field that had very few role models for black economists. He cites Millan Mulraine, chief economist for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, as inspiration.

But he believes our society is about to change, where hard work can pay off, no matter what your skin color.

Which brings us back to Subban. As soon as the star player joined the Montreal Canadiens, Jean noticed a rush of young people of color signing up to play hockey, inspired by Subban’s success.

“If I can be that myself, in that kind of role, I think it’s going to make a difference,” he said.

There is no silver bullet to the racism that led to the murder of George Floyd a year ago this month, but at least the public is increasingly aware of how to eliminate him, says Jeans.

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“We’re finally going to get there. I’m optimistic.

The mere fact of discussing housing and economic recovery in the same breath as the systemic racism that has marked the course of the pandemic across Canada is already a sign that Jean’s outlook on the economy is coming at the right time.

His advice to all of us: “Patience. And perseverance.


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