National

by Asian Pacific Post

Help has arrived for Vancouver residents who want to assist with the refugee crisis, thanks to a new initiative from the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub.

The Vancouver chapter of the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (SSP) launched its Matching Program on December 2nd, connecting Vancouverites interested in sponsoring refugees to a team of pro bono lawyers, law students and sponsorship experts.

“Our regional partners are crucial to this program’s success,” says Jennifer Bond, Faculty Director of the Refugee Hub. “We are thrilled to be working with our dedicated Vancouver colleagues on a project that will bring Canadians across the country together as they respond to a tragic situation.”

The response has been outstanding. Canadians have shown their eagerness to help and have reached out to various resettlement initiatives, wanting to know how they can be a part of the solution.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our regional partners are crucial to this program’s success."[/quote]

While sponsoring refugees is an important piece of the puzzle, the process can be confusing. Through Vancouver’s Refugee SSP, the city’s legal community is advising sponsors and helping them complete applications at no cost.

In early November, the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) trained over 50 lawyers and law students on how to deliver pro-bono sponsorship services to members of the public. The RSTP is a national organization that educates individuals and groups on sponsorship.

The training took place at MOSAIC, a settlement services organization.

The SSP is a national initiative supported by the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the uOttawa Human Rights Research and Education Centre, Lifeline Syria and the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program. MOSAIC is a local partner in Vancouver.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While sponsoring refugees is an important piece of the puzzle, the process can be confusing.[/quote]

“MOSAIC has been working with private sponsors and sponsorship agreement holders for many years,” says Saleem Spindari, a Manager of the Community Outreach and Advocacy Programs at MOSAIC. “The new Refugee Sponsorship Support Program comes at a time when there is an increase demand for support in preparing sponsorship applications. Canadians are actively looking for ways to support those fleeing their homes and seeking safety and MOSAIC is glad to be part of this campaign.”

Vancouver is among five other major Canadian cities to launch a regional chapter of the SSP, alongside Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Victoria. The program will soon be available in nine centres across Canada.

Sponsorship groups that want free legal support throughout the sponsorship process or lawyers and experts who would like to volunteer can contact the Vancouver team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post

On September 28th, the Taliban invaded the city of Kunduz. University of Ottawa International Development student Ajmal Sarfraz was talking to his family on Skype when the fighting came to their home. “All of a sudden everyone started screaming. My mother was killed,” Ajmal explained, “My mother was on the roof looking to see what was happening. She was shot in the head.”

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Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Vancouver’s blame-the-Chinese narrative is that commentators often start off with a reference to Demographia and its limited survey on housing affordability in nine countries.

The Illinois, U.S.-based consultancy is owned and operated by conservative public policy consultant Wendell Cox who opposes urban densification and public transit in favour of sprawl and the use of private cars.

This begs an important question: If Vancouver was found to be more like 20th or 50th, rather than second, in a truly global list on unaffordable housing, would the city be deemed to be facing a “housing crisis”?

Might a much lower unaffordability ranking take away the hysteria and alarmism sufficiently to focus the debate on increasing the supply of affordable housing?

Informed of his mistake, Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd, another leading voice in the blame-the-Chinese-camp has since amended his description of Vancouver to being “the second most unaffordable city in the English-speaking world” after Hong Kong.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]London and Singapore, two global cities, are likely to have more unaffordable housing than Vancouver.[/quote]

This too is mistaken, though, as London and Singapore, two global cities, are likely to have more unaffordable housing than Vancouver.

Examining the data

The basic error in the crisis narrative stems from not examining and verifying the raw data on housing prices and median income that Demographia uses in computing its affordability ranking.

In his May 22 comment, South China Morning Post’s Ian Young wrote that Vancouver has left Singapore “in the dust in terms of unaffordability” based on Demographia showing the Canadian city’s housing price/income ratio rising to more than double that of the Southeast Asian city state’s.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I seriously doubt that Hamilton is on par with Singapore. Housing in Hamilton is relatively cheap.”[/quote]

According to Demographia, Singapore, a global financial, trading, oil refining and shipping hub rated by the authoritative Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) as the world’s most expensive city (cited by the BBC), ranks a mere 89th, incredibly making its housing as affordable as laid-back Hamilton in Ontario.

“I seriously doubt that Hamilton is on par with Singapore. Housing in Hamilton is relatively cheap,” says Netina Tan, a political science associate professor at the Hamilton-based McMaster University, who has lived and worked in Singapore and Vancouver.

Demographia lists Hamilton’s median housing cost as C$344,200 and the median annual household income as C$69,200, giving the city an affordability ratio of five. This puts it on par with Singapore, which according to Demographia, has a median housing price of just S$405,000 and household income of S$80,500. [Current exchange rate C$1=S$1.08]

While the income figure looks correct, the median housing cost is too low as the survey covers only government-subsidized public apartments built and sold by the Housing Development Board (HDB), explains Samantha Law, marketing director for Miracles Realty Group.

[toggle_box]

[toggle_item title="Comparison with Singapore" active="true"]On Singapore’s 718-sq km plot, 5.5 million people live alongside one of the world’s most active financial centres, three world-class oil refineries, two major petrochemical complexes as well as several power plants, industrial parks, reservoirs and shipyards, and one of the world’s busiest seaports, making the tiny country’s land cost one of the highest in Asia.

Large tracts are also taken up by the country’s powerful military and extensive highway system.

In contrast, Hamilton’s 520,000 residents live in a sprawling 1,140-sq km city, with many single-family houses near the downtown core priced at between C$200,000 and C$300,000. An MLS listing for a “beautiful two-storey three-bed home (on a 2,460-sq ft lot), located in Great Central Hamilton, close to schools, shopping, hospital and highway access,” is available for C$269,900.

In Singapore, that would be the price of an aging one-bedroom public housing apartment of about 700-sq ft in an outlying suburb, said Samantha Law, marketing director for Miracles Realty Group. (Current exchange rate C$1=S$1.08). A private apartment of the same size would cost between $500,000 and $800,000, while a larger unit of 1,000-sq ft would sell for at least S$1.2 million, she said in an interview in Singapore.

A small single-family house in the Singapore suburbs would cost between S$2 million and $3 million each, or 10 times the price of a large house in downtown Hamilton. A typical example is this terraced house on a 2,300-sq ft plot located at least 15 km from downtown Singapore, available for only S$2.5 million.

On average, Singapore’s private apartments cost between three and four times that of Vancouver’s.

On Sept. 22, six regular condominium units in the Draycott Drive area inside the Orchard Road commercial belt were put on sale on the www.PropertyGuru.com.sg site for between S$1,900 and S$2,200 per sq ft, translating to S$2.5 million and S$3.9 million each.

On the same day, the www.MLS.ca site listed 59 two-bedroom condominium units in downtown Vancouver for sale at between C$500 and $700 per sq ft. They each cost between C$550,000 and C$750,000, prices that in Singapore would be deemed too low and therefore unavailable.

Most Singaporeans live in subsidized public housing apartments, which aren’t cheap either by Vancouver’s standard.

In the central and well-served locations, resale public housing apartments with 70 years or less left on their 99-year land leases with no parking lots, storage lockers and exercise facilities, cost as much as Vancouver’s freehold downtown apartments. A 645-sq ft unit on Queen Street is on the market for S$468,000 while a larger 1,485-sq ft apartment in Everton Park is available for S$900,000. Both are located within or near Singapore’s central district.

Those looking for cheaper public housing in the affordable S$400,000 price range will have to live at least 15 km from the downtown area and rely on the relatively efficient but heavily congested public transportation system for a 45 to 60-minute commute to work.

While most Vancouverites own a car and drive out of necessity, a private vehicle is a huge luxury for the average Singaporean. Due to the country’s high land cost, he or she would need to pay at least S$100,000, inclusive of a certificate of entitlement and taxes, to own a regular 1.6-litre-engine Japanese or Korean car.

Fuel costs and road tolls add to Singapore’s high living costs: on Sept. 22, a litre of regular gasoline costs S$2.05 compared with C$1.13 in Vancouver.[/toggle_item]
[/toggle_box]

Demographia did not reply to a request for comment on its data and survey methods used in the computation of its housing affordability ranking. On its website, the consultancy cites the Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX) as the source of its Singapore housing price.

“I suspect they got our data from the Housing Development Board (HDB) Flash Reports that we send out monthly. S$405,000 or thereabouts seem to be the median resale price number,” says Luqman Hakim A. Hadi, Head of Data at StreetSine Technology Group, which operates SRX.

This would explain the low median housing cost that Demographia uses for Singapore as it excludes prices of private apartments and single-family houses that are a significant component of the country’s real estate market.

The inclusion of private apartments and houses would sharply raise Singapore’s median housing cost and lift it well above Vancouver’s in the unaffordability ranking.

Comparison to other cities

In separate interviews, both Law and Luqman (who said his company does not work with Demographia in producing the survey), expressed surprise that Singapore is rated so much more affordable than Vancouver and on par with Hamilton considering the relatively low prices of condominiums, townhouses and houses in both Canadian cities.

Demographia’s 10th spot ranking for London also needs scrutiny as it is based on a surprisingly low median housing price of £385,000 for the famously expensive U.K. capital. On September 20, the Daily Mail reported that the average London property costs £620,000.

Around 8.63 million people live on London’s 1,572-sq km plot, giving it a population density of nearly 5,500 people per sq km.

This is more than six times greater than Metro Vancouver, which has a population of over 2.5 million people living on a land area almost twice as large at 2,877 sq km.

Further bolstering the value of London’s real estate, nearly twice as many overseas tourists visited the globally connected city as did Vancouver last year: 17.4 million vs 8.97 million.

Housing in Mainland China

The biggest surprise in the Demographia survey is the omission of mainland Chinese cities despite the company’s decision to cite The Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU), whose rankings for cities in China suggest that at least five of them were relatively more unaffordable than Vancouver. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The biggest surprise in the Demographia survey is the omission of mainland Chinese cities despite the company’s decision to cite The Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU), whose rankings for cities in China suggest that at least five of them were relatively more unaffordable than Vancouver.[/quote]

According to Demographia, the EIU gave Shenzhen a housing unaffordability ratio of 19.6, exceeding even Hong Kong’s 17. Next came Beijing (15.6), Shanghai (12.8), Guangzhou (11.4) and Tianjin (11.2), underlining the position of Chinese cities as having least affordable housing among their selected cities for 2011.

In their numerous reports on the Demographia survey, the Canadian mainstream media have made no mention of its reference to The Economist’s finding.

In 2013, when the Canadian media was trumpeting Vancouver’s second spot in the Demographia ranking, the U.S.-based The Atlantic magazine reported that housing in seven Chinese cities were among 10 of the world's least affordable markets. 

Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s house price-to-wage ratio, it placed Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Tianjin in the top five of the world’s least affordable housing list, with Guangzhou in eighth and Chongqing 10th..


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 3: Solutions or Scapegoats?

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 5: The China Fact 

{module NCM Blurb}

Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

In 2013, when the Canadian media was trumpeting Vancouver’s second spot in a housing unaffordability list based on a nine-country survey by a U.S.-based consultancy, Demographia, The Atlantic magazine reported seven Chinese cities were among the world’s top 10 for having the least affordable housing.

Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the magazine placed Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Tianjin in the top five of the world’s least affordable housing list, with Guangzhou in eighth and Chongqing 10.th.

Singapore ranked 15th, while Vancouver did not even make the top 15.

A contrarian position

Victor Wong, executive director at the Toronto-based Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), is an active participant in online discussions on Vancouver’s housing issues.

Wong takes the politically incorrect stance of challenging the prevailing narrative that Vancouver’s middle class faces a housing crisis, while agreeing with official findings that foreign buying accounts for only a small percentage of real estate transactions and ownership.

In responding to articles on mainstream news sites, he regularly pulls out listings and data from www.MLS.ca to prove his point that there’s still plenty of affordable houses, townhomes and apartments in Metro Vancouver that are within reach of middle-income families.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I disagree with the alarmist, racist coverage in the mainstream media. Why would they want to interview me?"[/quote] 

It hardly surprises that his views are not welcomed or sought out by the Canadian mainstream media. Wong occasionally spars with Ian Young on the SCMP site, but the journalist has not interviewed him for any of his stories.

For staking out a contrarian position, Wong is often criticized by other online participants who insinuate the B.C.-born Canadian is either working for the real estate industry, or worse, the Chinese government.

“I disagree with the alarmist, racist coverage in the mainstream media. Why would they want to interview me? They’ve gone so deep in their narrative of widespread Chinese and foreign buying that they can’t back out now,” he said in a phone interview from his Toronto office.

Commenting on a May 4 Vancouver Sun article calling for restrictions on foreign buyers, he wrote: “A review of listings at www.mls.ca shows that about 50 per cent of all homes for sale are priced under $600,000 and about 12 per cent – one in eight – are priced above $2 million.”

He offers no sympathy for Eveline Xia’s populist “#DontHave1Million” complaint or Saeid Fard’s lament that young professionals have little hope of buying a single-family house in the city. A day after about 150 people attended Xia’s May 24 protest rally in downtown Vancouver, Wong wrote, “the same number of home buyers made deals on purchasing a home.”

Don’t have C$1 million?

“Actually, you need C$670,000 for the median priced home in Greater Vancouver. More than 70 per cent of the houses listed at www.mls.ca are priced below C$1 million,” he wrote.

On May 24, during the peak spring season, he found 5,779 listings of homes with two bedrooms or more priced between C$300,000 and C$1 million, including about 1,000 single detached homes in Vancouver and the suburbs.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s no different from other major cities around the world. The expanding economy draws in more people, but land supply remains the same."[/quote]

Just over five months later, on September 27, the MLS site revealed there were 2,360 listings of homes that met with that set of criteria. The vast majority were apartments, many between 900 and 1,200 sq ft in size that could accommodate a small family – common in many major cities around the world.

Wong urges young professionals to focus on townhomes and large apartments given the limited number of single-family houses available in Vancouver’s finite geography.

“It’s no different from other major cities around the world. The expanding economy draws in more people, but land supply remains the same. There are only 75,000 detached homes in all of metro Vancouver, so prices will rise in response to demand,” he said.

Vancouver and its suburbs are now home to a record 2.5 million people and still growing.

In making his point that affordable housing still exists in metro Vancouver, Wong highlights another shortcoming with the media’s use of the Demographia survey. It publishes a price that encompasses single-family houses, townhomes and apartments to represent Vancouver’s median housing cost.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Exclude luxury homes costing at least C$3 million and single-family houses worth C$1.2 million or more, that median cost for housing drops significantly.[/quote]

Exclude luxury homes costing at least C$3 million and single-family houses worth C$1.2 million or more, that median cost for Vancouver's housing drops significantly.

Also, Demographia has shown an inconsistent methodology in its calculation of the median housing cost: in Singapore’s case, it uses only the prices of government-subsidized apartments and excludes the significant, but expensive, apartment and house markets, thus resulting in the country having an unrealistically low median housing price.

This explains why Singapore ranks just 89th in Demographia’s housing unaffordability list, far below Vancouver’s second position behind Hong Kong.

Racializing the issue

Wong said the mainstream media has been racializing the issue of rising cost for the purpose of blaming migrants, especially the Chinese, instead of finding solutions.

He said the “real” housing crisis in Vancouver lies not with the middle class, but society’s lower rungs, which have long been plagued by the problem of homelessness and severe unaffordability.

“There are 10,000 on the waiting list for social housing and large groups of Vancouverites pay more than 30 per cent of their income for rental housing,” he said, calling on governments at all levels to help finance co-op housing especially on state-owned land or through land swaps.

His views overlap with two non-mainstream articles written separately in 2013 by Jim Sutherland and Nathan Crompton.

Sutherland’s piece, “Vancouver: Not as Expensive as You Think”, in the Vancouver Magazine underlines the fact that Canada’s most expensive city for housing is less costly or unaffordable compared with many other cities around the world.

Crompton, a left-wing writer and campaigner, denounces what he calls the media’s racist reporting in linking empty condominiums to foreign investors when, in fact, most are owned by locals.

“So why is the “foreigner thesis” so popular among Vancouver’s political elite? One answer is that it allows the government to get away with its anti-affordable housing policies,” wrote Crompton.


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 2: A Tale of Many Cities

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 5: The China Factor

{module NCM Blurb}

 

Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

Those campaigning against foreign investors in Vancouver’s real estate market have seized the upperhand in the public relations battle.

In June, 64 per cent of respondents in an Angus Reid survey said that they blame offshore money for the continuing rise in the city’s housing prices. Nearly 20 per cent of them said they would leave Metro Vancouver to escape the “extreme housing and traffic pain”.

Reflecting the mood of its respondents, Angus issued a shrill warning that the city could lose a generation of more than 150,000 families who would “simply leave in search of more manageable living.” 

The mainstream media has been providing the optics by highlighting a handful of high-profile Chinese buying expensive homes to contrast with stories of young professional couples being forced to flee as they cannot afford the average $1.16 million single-family house in metro Vancouver.

Getting “real” data

The campaigners have since shifted their focus to demand “real” data that they believe will prove their complaints and compel the government to act against foreign buyers.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Instead of calming public nerves, the BCREA and CHMC reports have further fuelled suspicion that government agencies are working with the real estate industry to cover up the true extent of foreign ownership and offshore money in Vancouver’s real estate.[/quote]

Earlier comments by the British Columbia government and reports by the BCREA and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC) to downplay the role and impact of offshore money in Vancouver’s real estate market were met with disbelief and anger.

Instead of calming public nerves, the BCREA and CHMC reports have further fuelled suspicion that government agencies are working with the real estate industry to cover up the true extent of foreign ownership and offshore money in Vancouver’s real estate.

“If foreign speculators are driving the cost of housing to unaffordable levels, that is something the government can, and should, find a way to address,” Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper said.

The announcement was cautiously welcomed as it raised the possibility that the data might lead Ottawa to “do something” to make Vancouver houses affordable.

Online discussions have generated a number of options: reducing or capping in-bound migration, especially of the wealthy, placing curbs on foreign investment in Canadian real estate, and imposing new taxes on purchases by non-resident foreigners.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he populist narrative ignores the big-picture need for foreign trade, investment and talent to drive Canada’s increasingly uncompetitive mid-sized resource-dependent economy.[/quote]

Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), Victor Wong, said the problem with the “Don’tHave$1million” and “We Want Data” movements is that they are narrowly motivated to prove foreign speculation is causing Vancouver’s housing problems and that young professionals are completely helpless to deal with rising prices.

He emphasizes that another set of data, widely available but ignored, shows the ample supply of good affordable housing for middle-income families in metro Vancouver.

Ignoring the big picture

There has been little acknowledgement from the campaigners that first-time buyers could start off by buying town homes (median price of $511,500) or apartments ($405,400), instead of reaching straight for that $1.5 million house in Vancouver.

They also ignore the possibility that people can live and work in suburbs like Coquitlam, Surrey and Burnaby, located about 30 to 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver, where single-family houses are still available for C$400,000 to C$700,000.

Just as important, the populist narrative ignores the big-picture need for foreign trade, investment and talent to drive Canada’s mid-sized resource-dependent economy.

In demonizing Asian investors, the campaigners ignore the role of new migrants and business talents in helping Canada develop export markets in countries that it knows little about.

Many new business migrants also bring in capital and their global network of contacts to help develop Canada’s increasingly cash-strapped resource sector.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The dire state of the Canadian economy amid the volatile global environment is also keeping politicians from acting to cool Vancouver’s vibrant real estate market.[/quote]

Contrary to the fears expressed in the Angus Reid survey that rising housing prices will force the young and educated out of Vancouver, Wong said the city’s population is growing as people are adapting and finding solutions, which include buying homes and living in places they can afford.

“People adapt far better than the media gives them credit for. Professionals and tradespeople leave for different reasons. I work in Toronto, others work in L.A., Hong Kong, or the oilfields, but our home is Vancouver,” he said.

“We work elsewhere for career, income, change of scenery. But look at the data: there’s net in-migration to B.C. these past 12 months and net immigration is steady at 30,000 a year. It’s more accurate to say we are gaining people, not losing them.”

Avoiding wider negative repercussions

Metro Vancouver’s planners agree with Wong’s assessment. In planning for the region’s transportation needs, they are projecting the population to grow by another million people by 2041.

The weak state of the Canadian economy amid the volatile global environment is also keeping politicians from acting to cool Vancouver’s vibrant real estate market.

In a June 5 study, the B.C. finance ministry said any moves to drastically curb foreign investments could lead to wider negative repercussions that would result in the loss of C$350 million or 0.2 per cent of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It warned that roughly C$1 billion in residential real estate sales and around 3,800 jobs would be lost, mainly in the construction and real estate sectors.

B.C. officials have good reason to fear, seeing how quickly the collapse of the oil and gas markets is crushing the once red-hot housing markets in Calgary and Fort McMurray.

Foreign investors are fleeing or refusing to invest in Alberta – the same ones that three years ago some in the Canadian media and government attacked for trying to invest in Canada’s oil sands reserves.


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 2: A Tale of Many Cities

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 3: Solutions or Scapegoats?

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 5: The China Factor

{module NCM Blurb}

Every city has its own urban legend. Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified claim, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to a breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy immigrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money.

A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market.

Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing $500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. 

This special five-part series deconstructs the narrative to present the issue in a broader framework. 


by Ng Weng Hoong in Vancouver

The populist narrative on housing affordability in Vancouver ignores the big-picture need for foreign trade, investment and talent to drive Canada’s mid-sized resource-dependent economy.

In a June 5 study, the B.C. finance ministry said any moves to drastically curb foreign investments could lead to wider negative repercussions that would result in the loss of C$350 million or 0.2 per cent of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It warned that roughly C$1 billion in residential real estate sales and around 3,800 jobs would be lost, mainly in the construction and real estate sectors.

B.C. officials have good reason to fear, seeing how quickly the collapse of the oil, gas and commodity markets is crushing the once red-hot housing markets in Calgary and Fort McMurray.

Foreign investors are fleeing or refusing to invest in Alberta – the same ones that three years ago some in the Canadian media and government attacked for trying to invest in Canada’s oil sands reserves.

Trade with Asia

Notwithstanding the current problems in most emerging economies, Canada needs to continue to grow trade with Asia and reduce its overwhelming dependence on the U.S., said Stewart Beck, President of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, in a recent interview.

Canada’s trade with Asia has grown from C$86 billion in 2004 to over C$155 billion last year, with China accounting for half that share.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In a recent interview, Yuen Pau Woo, the CEO of HQ Vancouver, said the media should highlight the far more important contribution of foreign investments in creating employment and business opportunities for Canadians.[/quote]

In a recent interview, Yuen Pau Woo, the CEO of HQ Vancouver, said the media should highlight the far more important contribution of foreign investments in creating employment and business opportunities for Canadians.

Launched in February, HQ Vancouver is a partnership between the Business Council of B.C. (BCBC), and the B.C. and federal governments to attract Asian companies to set up their head offices in Vancouver.

At a March 31 event to launch a book on China by former diplomat David Mulroney, Woo spoke of the need for Vancouver to boost income-generating activities and businesses to enable its residents to live and prosper in the city’s increasingly costly environment.

His speech was not reported in the media; outlets focused instead on Mulroney’s political concerns with China and, of course, Chinese buying Vancouver real estate.

But Woo followed up in September with a criticism of the Globe and Mail for publishing a centrespread feature on Chinese buyers of Vancouver mansions, while ignoring “the news about a similar set of Chinese immigrants who announced an investment of $200 million in a manufacturing facility in Surrey (F-Pacific Optical Inc.) and the establishment of a North American head office in Vancouver.”

“Why is the media more interested in the houses that these immigrants buy than in the job-creating investments that they make?” he wrote in TheTyee.ca.

He called for “a stop to the insidious characterization of Chinese investors as villains in our affordability problems,” and for Vancouverites to “seize on the presence of so many well-heeled entrepreneur and investor immigrants … to attract new business capital to the province, create jobs and raise incomes.”

Negative media, hate crimes

But his message still fell flat for some Canadians, who are stuck with the media’s negative portrayal of Asian investment in Vancouver’s housing market.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The pervasive negative media reports may have led to at least two acts of hate crime in Nanaimo and Richmond targeted at Chinese housing investment.[/quote]

BD, an anonymous critic commenting on TheTyee site described Woo, a Malaysia-born Canadian, as “an Asian with investor relatives telling us to pay no attention to foreign investment.”

“Canada is supposed to be a country where people live in houses with yards, not morph into another [third] world hell where everyone lives in a sterile white box in a tall building. No foreign ownership,” BD wrote.

The pervasive negative media reports may have led to at least two acts of hate crime in Nanaimo and Richmond targeted at Chinese housing investment.

In Nanaimo, the RCMP is looking for the vandal or vandals who spray-painted anti-immigrant slurs on advertisements for Chinese real estate agents.

“The racist graffiti comes on the heels of racially charged pamphlets that blamed wealthy foreign investors for inflating real estate prices,” reported the Times Colonist.

Growing anxiety

Canadians’ growing anxiety over China has become entangled with worries over Vancouver’s housing affordability, said Paul Evans, professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is a general Canadian discomfort or anxiety about China. On specific issues, depending on how it is played, you can have a firestorm.”[/quote]

“People are worried about Chinese investments swamping Canada, even though it’s less than three per cent of total foreign investments in this country,” he said in an interview at his office.

“There is a general Canadian discomfort or anxiety about China. On specific issues, depending on how it is played, you can have a firestorm.”

He supports the call for better data and analysis on foreign investments in Canada’s real estate, which he feels should have been implemented a long time ago.

“As unpopular as it might be in some quarters, as Canadians, we should start monitoring the flows and get the facts. We should have disclosure from investors, just as the Australians do,” he said.

“It’s because of the timing,” he added. Had this been implemented before Vancouver’s housing cost became political, the request for data disclosure would not have been an issue.

“We need smart and courageous politicians to do it now. I know a lot of politicians are running scared of this issue now. At the city and, particularly, the provincial levels,” explain Evans.

“But as mature public policy, we just have to start monitoring who’s buying, who’s selling.”

The challenge for the Canadian government now is to implement detailed data collection and analysis without it appearing as a reflexive “anti-China, anti-Chinese act,” said Evans.

Hopefully, that’s one urban legend Vancouver will avoid being associated with.


Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 1: A Global Issue

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 2: A Tale of Many Cities

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 3: Solutions or Scapegoats?

Read Vancouver and Unaffordable Housing Part 4: Lots of Statistics, and a Few Lies

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