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Romy Bowers named new head of CMHC, will succeed Evan Siddall in April


The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has chosen Romy Bowers to succeed Evan Siddall as its chief executive next month.

Previously a managing director at Bank of Montreal, Bowers has been with the federal housing agency since 2015 and was most recently its senior vice-president of client solutions.

CMHC said Tuesday that Bowers will succeed Siddall, who became known for his criticism of the real estate industry and his focus on housing affordability after he was appointed CEO in 2014.

His term was extended in 2018, but last January he announced he was looking to depart the agency and the search for his replacement began. 

Bowers is set to begin her five-year term as CEO on April 6.

She takes on the role as the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread in Canada and interest rates remain low, propping up home sales and prices in several markets.

"I am excited to work closely with my colleagues across the corporation to help us continue to pursue our housing affordability aspiration," she said in a statement. 

"I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities for learning and growth that lie ahead for me and I know I can count on the support of everyone at CMHC as we continue to work toward our 2030 goal.”

Bowers joined CMHC after spending 12 years working in treasury operations and risk management roles at the Bank of Montreal. 

She initially served as CMHC's risk officer, but her LinkedIn profile shows she moved up to chief commercial officer in 2018 and a senior vice-president role a year later. 

Bowers and Siddall declined interview requests on Tuesday, but Siddall praised his successor in a statement.

"Romy is an outstanding choice to succeed me as CEO and I wish her great success," he said. 

"I've often said that this has been the best job I've ever had and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help transform CMHC into an institution Canadians can admire."

Canadian Real Estate Association chief executive Michael Bourque has never met Bowers, but said it was good that CMHC appointed someone from within the organization because the agency has a lot of "bench strength."

Choosing someone internally, he said, means Bowers knows what she's getting into and can get to work right away.

However, he warned, "It's a tough time to be coming into (the position), very challenging."

Because housing demand is outpacing supply in several markets and prices are soaring, he expects Bowers to continue to focus on affordability like her predecessor.

"CMHC is doing its part to try and help with supply but...I think there is an opportunity to do a lot more," he said.

He suggested CMHC and the housing industry look at how increasing density or easing regulations to allow building on more land could increase supply and encourage housing affordability.

Bowers may also have to rebuild some trust and relationships within the industry, after Siddall spent recent months forecasting the fall of housing prices and the rise of mortgage arrears.

Neither materialized and on Monday, Siddall acknowledged his faults in a series of tweets.

“We never pretended to have (a) crystal ball. Nor are we all-knowing on housing," he wrote.

"We meant to contribute to a discourse, even though it was hard to be precise about (the) future. In hindsight, we could have made that clearer."

Earlier in his tenure, he generated criticism from realtors and their associations when he urged the industry to "call out the glorification of home ownership for the regressive canard that it is."

Realtors were quick to push back and shared surveys that proved the majority of millennials or future homebuyers were keen to own homes.

"I never thought that it was very healthy to try and pit one group against the other," said Bourque.

"It's a lot more productive if we can work together towards our common goals going forward than it is to waste energy pointing fingers at one another."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BMO)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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