Douglas Todd: Singapore has impressive housing success. Can we?

Singapore is unique in so many ways and hard to see how its approach could ever be adopted here apart from some of the tax and surcharge approaches:

If you’re Canadian, you might feel envious learning the quest for affordable housing is basically a success for many of the 5.7 million people of Singapore.

That is not a story you hear often, or at all, in Canada, especially not in Greater Toronto, Metro Vancouver or Victoria, three of the world’s more unaffordable cities.

The wealthy city-state of Singapore, in South-East Asia, is like Metro Vancouver and Toronto in many ways: A megapolis that acts as a magnet for foreign people and capital, which has faced daunting housing problems.

Like other fast-growing cities, Singapore is known for its capitalism and cultural diversity, albeit with a stronger emphasis on orderliness, which leads to cleanliness and low crime. Despite free elections, it has had only one party in government since it gained independence from Britain in 1959. Its legendary first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, committed to every citizen being able to own a home.

The city-state approaches Canada for its religious and ethnic diversity: 75 per cent of residents are of Chinese descent, 15 per cent are Malay and seven per cent are from the Indian subcontinent. More than one quarter of Singapore’s population is foreign born, which is less than the proportion in Vancouver and Toronto.

Yet, despite broad similarities, the upcoming book Housing Booms in Gateway Cities, from David Ley, a UBC professor emeritus of geography, explores how Singapore, through innovative taxation, has conducted an impressive experiment in housing.

When Demographia analyzed the worst gaps between house prices and income in 92 cities in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Britain and the U.S., it found this year that Vancouver is the third most unaffordable city, while Toronto is 10th. Singapore is in the middle of the 92 cities.

Singapore has accomplished relative affordability with what Ley calls “its own version of municipal socialism” — a term that will either repel or attract Canadians.

“Typically, Singapore gets the prize of being the most business-friendly and economically open society there is. But, when it comes to housing, it battens down the hatches hard,” said Ley, author of Millionaire Migrants, whose new book will detail housing issues in the gateway cities of Vancouver, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and London, England.

“It’s plan from the beginning was that everyone who is a (citizen) would be a homeowner, buying housing from the government, which is the principal landowner, or from a much smaller private sector.”

The megalopolis’s housing model, unlike in Canada, is based on differentiating three levels of citizenship rights. Restrictions on foreign investment are also tight.

“If you are born in Singapore you are called a Singapore ‘resident,’ and you have basically all the rights that are available,” Ley said. “You can also become a permanent resident and get a chunk of the rights, but not all of them. Or you’re a temporary migrant and you have almost no rights.”

As a result, nine out of 10 citizens of Singapore own a dwelling, said Ley, nearly all of which are apartments, ranging from run-of-the-mill to elegant. Most are leased for 99 years from the government. Another 20 per cent of housing is exchanged on the private market.

Here’s how Singapore’s experiment in housing works.

If you are a full citizen of Singapore, you get access to the apartments built and made available by the Housing and Development Board, or HDP, a high-powered government agency.

“And if you’re a permanent resident, but not born in Singapore, you get access to HDP apartments, but with conditions,” Ley said. “If you’re a temporary migrant you get no access at all.”

That means the majority of citizens are allowed to choose from decent or stylish government-built apartments in well-planned communities, which slowly grow in value because prices are controlled by taxation policy. It results in most residents being able to move up the housing ladder.

It also means the minority of temporary residents in Singapore mostly compete for private housing. The business people from China, Indonesia and the West who work in Singapore’s dynamic financial sector, who are called “Talents,” tend to buy nice flats. On the other hand, migrant nannies often make their homes in extra bedrooms, while many foreign construction workers live in dormitories.

While Ley joins many housing specialists around the world in observing most Singaporeans seem happy with the model, it’s not perfection. A non-Singaporean professional who lives there (and doesn’t want to be identified) told me this week that young adults complain they will not start having children until they own a dwelling. And some charge the government isn’t building them fast enough.

The debate has led to former Singapore cabinet minister Josephine Teo, who calls on citizens to produce more babies even if they don’t own, famously blurting: “You need a very small space to have sex.”

Singapore ‘tenacious’ at limiting housing speculation

“Singapore has been really tenacious in terms of controlling foreign investment in its housing market,” Ley said.

While Ley wonders if Singapore inspired B.C. and Ontario’s foreign-buyers taxes, the surcharges in Canada are modest compared to those in Singapore, where foreign nationals are taxed a solid 30 per cent on any purchase whatsoever.

Singapore’s politicians also curb speculation by local investors. A year ago they slapped a 17 per cent tax on citizens who buy a second property and 25 per cent tax on their third property. They do not, on the other hand, tax citizens who are first-time buyers.

And while Canada treats permanent residents the same as citizens when it comes to housing taxes, that’s not the case in Singapore. It has imposed a five per cent tax on permanent residents purchasing a first dwelling and 30 per cent on those snapping up a third.

While Ley generally supports a surcharge on foreign purchases, he was uncertain about Canada copying Singapore’s taxes on permanent residents who invest in primary properties to live in. To some extent, he said, such speculation is already tempered by Canada’s capital gains taxes.

What can Canada learn from Singapore’s remarkable system of relative affordability? “In some ways, sadly, it’s a rather unique place,” Ley says.

But that doesn’t mean some of the city-state’s effective policies couldn’t inspire creative adaptation here.

Source: Douglas Todd: Singapore has impressive housing success. Can we?

25-year-old internal memo to Canada Revenue Agency predicted foreign money distorting housing market

Pretty outrageous, both the initial non-release and the five-year ATIP battle. Kudos to Ian Young of the SCMP for persisting. David Anderson and Jane Stewart were ministers at the time:

An internal Canada Revenue Agency audit concluded 25 years ago that wealthy new immigrants were buying up most of the priciest houses taken from a sample in and around Vancouver while declaring poverty on their tax returns. But the report was not made public until a five-year access-to-information battle concluded recently.

Housing and immigration academics say the study could have warned the public about the scale of foreign money being parked in Metro Vancouver’s residential real estate – decades before the provincial government began taking meaningful action to slow this trend.

During the federal election campaign, all three major parties have proposed various policies to curb international demand for real estate, which has contributed to rising unaffordability in a number of urban centres.

The Liberals and Conservatives are promising to ban foreign home buyers for at least two years. The New Democrats have pledged to tax those who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents with a 20-per-cent levy – the same penalty imposed in British Columbia’s biggest cities for the past three years.

But critics say the parties need to follow B.C.’s lead to capture even more information about property owners so that they can be taxed more equitably and governments can tamp down international real estate speculation.

The CRA’s analysis from October, 1996, was shared with The Globe and Mail this week after its release to Ian Young, the South China Morning Post’s Vancouver correspondent who first requested the information in 2016 after being leaked portions of the internal memo explaining its findings.

The audit focused on 328 higher-end sales in the suburbs Burnaby and Coquitlam, but the study also analyzed a random sample of 6,060 sales from Vancouver and neighbouring Richmond and discovered “similar demographic results.”

Of the 46 houses bought in Burnaby, staff found 72 per cent were purchased by new arrivals to Vancouver who reported an average total family income of just $16,000. In contrast, the CRA’s chart from the audit showed four buyers who were long-term residents reported average family incomes that were tens of thousands of dollars higher.

This income gap between new immigrants and neighbours who had lived there longer was also observed in Coquitlam, according to the CRA’s chart released in the package of documents.

“It should be noted that an obvious large discrepancy exists between the average total family incomes for long-term Canadian residents and newer Canadian residents,” the author of the memo wrote to his CRA boss. “Furthermore, based on lifestyle and average age of these taxpayers, it is likely that many of these new Canadians still have active business activities, but are not reporting all their sources of income.”

Vancouver lawyer Richard Kurland, who has been helping international clients immigrate to B.C. for 25 years, said the analysis proves the CRA failed to catch those hiding their global income while competing for homes on Canada’s West Coast.

“They knew it was happening and did nothing, so the bleeding continued, taxes were not paid, property was subject to speculation and the end result [is] people in Vancouver are paying many more times than they have to for residential property because the CRA did nothing when it was warned by its own employees about what was going on,” he said.

David Ley, a geography professor at the University of B.C. who studies housing bubbles, said the 1996 report could have spurred politicians to address the anomaly of “apparently poor people buying very rich properties” decades earlier. He said the CRA had long maintained that they it would take too many resources to crack down on home buyers hiding wealth abroad, in large part because other countries they lived in were unlikely to release the pertinent tax information.

“It’s very difficult to pursue foreign sources of income – so they didn’t,” Dr. Ley said.

The CRA told The Globe this week that the study intentionally focused on cases where the buyer may have been underreporting their income and, thus, “was not intended to, and should not be, extrapolated to the whole population.”

But large parts of the internal communications around the release of this document were redacted because the agency said federal access-to-information law allows consultations or deliberations between government employees, a minister of the Crown or their staff to remain confidential.

The federal agency said it takes cheating its system seriously and has stepped up audits in the hot housing markets of Toronto and Vancouver in recent years. Still, the CRA said its five-year battle with Mr. Young over the release of this document is “clearly not normal, nor is it acceptable; we are continuing to take steps to improve [our] performance.”

Andy Yan, a housing analyst and director of Simon Fraser University’s city program, said the federal government has a lot of tools – such as home loan data and analysis of social demographic changes in neighbourhoods – through which it can confirm or refute how widespread these investment patterns have been. But, ultimately, he said, the CRA has not effectively enforced the country’s tax rules, helping create an unfair system where foreign capital is stored in residential real estate.

“There shouldn’t be any free parking,” said Mr. Yan.

In 2015, a Globe and Mail investigation into public data – including land titles, tax reporting and court records – revealed a similar pattern to the 1996 CRA study that suggested the typical wealthy foreign family buying Vancouver real estate pays little or no income or capital gains tax. These family homes were priced out of reach for many locals whose taxes pay for public services.

The Globe discovered that one in three multimillion-dollar homes bought in Vancouver areas popular with foreign buyers was registered to a homemaker, student or corporation – one indicator of how the identity of the person who actually paid can be hidden.

When a spouse or child sells a property that is registered in their name, the real investor can avoid capital-gains taxes – because the relative in Canada can claim it was their primary residence, therefore not an investment.

This and other Globe investigations helped increase public pressure on the provincial Liberal government to enact Canada’s first tax on foreign homebuyers. After the New Democrats were elected in 2017, in part on their pledge to further crack down on expanding real estate speculation, B.C. implemented a host of new taxes and demand-side tools.

Mr. Kurland said more provinces need to follow B.C.’s lead in requiring that homebuyers declare their country of residence for tax purposes as well as create a registry for beneficial owners – which will come into full force at the end of this year to make it tougher for people to hide real estate investments behind corporations, trusts or partnerships.

He said the CRA’s current “whack-a-mole” approach to catching scofflaws in the housing market relies on auditors digging for specific information in individual cases, but it will soon be able to use algorithms to scour all its tax information and these twin data sets to better catch those hiding wealth in B.C.

“It’s equivalent of an abacus versus a spreadsheet,” said Mr. Kurland, who added that he saw a “massive selling spree” among foreign owners in B.C. before each of those two policies became law.

Rohana Rezel, a software engineer who advocates for more affordable housing by using software and data to uncover speculators in Metro Vancouver’s market, said the most effective federal policy on this issue would be to blanket the whole country with a speculation tax on all homes.

Then, owners could offset this two-per-cent penalty against what they pay to the CRA each year, said Mr. Rezel.

“If you’re paying income taxes of a certain amount it doesn’t apply to you,” said Mr. Rezel, who immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in 2008.


Douglas Todd: What would happen to Canadian housing if immigration stopped?

Good range of perspectives covered in this thought experiment:

What would happen to Canada’s housing market if immigration to Canada was substantially reduced or even cut to zero? It’s a crucial question for the public, and for real-estate developers who start new construction projects on the basis of predictions of future sales.

Surprisingly, however, the answers are all over the map.

Some specialists suggest virtually nothing would happen to Canadian housing prices if immigration slowed or ended. Others say the impact would be lower prices and hard times for the powerful real-estate industry.

While there are no immediate signs immigration levels will be reduced — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has increased the immigration rate by more than 30 per cent, to almost 350,000 newcomers a year — the issue is central to the dreams and anxieties of Canadian residents who either own homes or want to imagine the possibility.

Two Ontario real-estate specialists recently wrote in the Financial Post that, based on studies, the “overall impact of immigration on housing markets is modest at best in most cases.”

The most startling research spotlighted by Murtaza Haider, of Ryerson University, and Stephen Moranis, a Toronto real-estate insider, maintained that immigration has virtually no impact on overall Canadian housing prices.

The authors of that contentious study, Ahter Akbari and Yigit Aydede of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, claimed immigration adds an insignificant $1 to every $1,000 people in Canada spend on housing.

Could that be true?

UBC geography professor emeritus David Ley, whose findings differ from the 2012 paper by the Saint Mary’s profs, said in an interview their study looks at the period from 1996 to 2006 and doesn’t focus on urban regions, which his analyses do. Ley has consistently found a close correlation between strong immigration and high housing prices in global cities.

In that way the Saint Mary’s paper sidesteps an increasingly plain-to-see phenomenon: Housing prices vary according to where immigrants choose to live. And for the most part they stream into major cities, especially sky-high Toronto and Vancouver.

Indeed, the authors of the Financial Post article that cites the Saint Mary’s study apparently contradict themselves at the end of their piece, after repeating the impact of immigration is “modest at best” on housing.

“The more important realization,” Haider and Moranis say in their last sentence, “is that an absence of immigration would result in a declining population and aging of the workforce, which could have a much larger negative impact on Canadian housing markets.”

So, which is it? Immigration has almost no influence on housing? Or the population growth it brings has a tremendous impact?

Simon Fraser University’s Josh Gordon, a specialist in public policy, says it’s crucial to follow through on the “counter-factual” question, to imagine a scenario not currently in the cards: What would happen to housing prices if immigration levels reduced to zero?

The real-estate industry, Gordon said, repeatedly says it must build more housing faster because the Canadian population is growing rapidly, predominantly because of immigration.

The development industry’s repeated warnings, Gordon said, that Metro Vancouver and Toronto property must be rezoned at higher density and that rents will continue to rise would be thrown into disarray with the ending of immigration.

“What’s revealing is that when certain members of the real-estate industry try to generate a fear-of-missing-out mentality (FOMO), as well as the expectation that prices will rise over time, their typical move is to emphasize how many people will be arriving on a yearly basis and how large the population will eventually be,” Gordon said.

“The actions of those organizations belie the idea that immigration is not likely to have much impact on prices.”

There is evidence housing prices would dramatically adjust if immigration stopped.

After all, the populations of Metro Vancouver and Toronto experience net growth of about one per cent a year, almost entirely from foreign-born newcomers, who need places to live. That does not include the  high portion the two cities take in of the roughly one million international students and temporary visa workers who are now in Canada at any one time.

And a recent study by Statistics Canada researchers found the detached houses bought by recent immigrants to Metro Vancouver are, on average, valued $824,000 higher than such homes owned by people born in Canada. In Toronto the cost of recent immigrants’ homes was about $50,000 higher than that of the domestic born.

UBC geographer Daniel Hiebert, in addition, showed in a peer-reviewed study that recent immigrants, especially those from China, show statistically greater determination than Canadian-born citizens to buy housing in Canada’s three major cities. “First and foremost,” Hiebert says, “immigration policy is, essentially, also a form of housing policy.”

The Urban Development Institute, which represents property developers, makes no bones about how housing supply must be expanded to support immigration.

“Over the next 25 years, our province is expected to grow by more than 1.4 million people, partly as a result of the federal government’s plan to raise immigration 13 per cent by 2020,” UDI president Anne McMullin recently wrote. “That means we must work together to create new homes if we want our children and grandchildren to have a future in B.C.”

A related June study by Gordon found a near-perfect correlation between housing unaffordability and foreign ownership in certain Metro Vancouver municipalities. Gordon discovered, for instance, that Vancouver, Richmond and West Vancouver are not only the most unaffordable municipalities, they are the one most attracting millionaire migrants and their wealth.

There is a complicating factor, however, as there often is when trying to understand the mass global movement of people and money.

Gordon emphasizes that immigration levels and foreign ownership, which he defines as “housing owned primarily on the basis of foreign income or wealth,” are related. But they’re different, too.

“There is some overlap to the extent that immigration, as it happens in Canada, involves many people arriving with significant amounts of wealth,” Gordon said. “But debates about immigration are largely distinct, though not entirely, from debates around foreign ownership, even while certain people have tried to conflate the two.“

How do the foreign-buyers taxes in B.C. and Ontario, as well as B.C.’s speculation tax, fit into the discussion of housing prices? Those measures are focused on foreign ownership, not immigration levels, Gordon said.

“The point of the measures in relationship to foreign ownership is to discourage the de-coupling of the housing market from the labour market, to discourage the use of large amounts of foreign capital to purchase property in Canada,” said Gordon.

“Measures around foreign ownership are about levelling the playing field for local working people. Measures around immigration are different. The irony is that measures to limit or curtail foreign ownership may in fact be beneficial for many new immigrants, because new immigrants who do not arrive with vast amounts of wealth are doubly disadvantaged in the housing market.”

It can take a while to get one’s head around the global forces running through Canadian housing.

But no matter which way you look at the impact of large-scale immigration, and foreign capital, on key sectors of Canada’s vigorous housing market, it’s undeniable they’re profoundly connected — and that decisions made about immigration will indeed always be a form of housing policy.

Source: Douglas Todd: What would happen to Canadian housing if immigration stopped?

CMHC head says foreign buyers a ‘scapegoat’ for high Vancouver prices

Although he is right to point out that other factors are involved, I am not completely convinced by the data he uses to downplay the role of foreign investors,  compared to the data used by others such as David Ley (see The Asian force behind Vancouver’s housing boomBlame politicians for Metro Vancouver’s housing price crisis):

High housing prices in the Vancouver region stem from a variety of factors, with foreign buyers shouldering a disproportionate amount of blame, says the president of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Evan Siddall said he is concerned about “unhealthy tensions” pitting existing residents against recent arrivals, and also older homeowners against younger families priced out of the market.

“Who is to blame for Vancouver’s affordability problems? To some, the scapegoat is obvious – blame foreigners,” Mr. Siddall said Wednesday in prepared remarks to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

“While it would be convenient to hang all of the blame for high prices on others – offshore buyers – it’s just not that simple. Sure, it makes for a tempting narrative. Them, not us. And while foreign investment clearly is a factor, it is not the only one.”

Mr. Siddall listed a wide range of factors that he sees as contributors to Vancouver’s expensive real estate: domestic residential investing, population and economic growth, low interest rates and housing supply constraints.

Some industry observers argue that buyers from China are the primary drivers behind Vancouver’s housing boom that spilled into the suburbs.

Mr. Siddall said evidence points to housing investor activity in Canada originating from predominantly domestic sources, yet foreign investment is often seen as the culprit in Vancouver. Going off script, he added: “When a white person buys a house, we don’t notice. If somebody of a different colour does, we do. And that’s not good economics.”

During a news conference after his speech, Mr. Siddall said the debate over housing affordability is contentious. “This contrast between us and them is a factor. We notice things that are different better than we notice things that are similar,” he said.

The CMHC president added that the federal government has policy tools, with the Minister of Finance knowing not to use economic stimulus to unduly influence the real estate market.

“Our analysis confirms that the most important factors accounting for house price increases over the long term are economic,” Mr. Siddall said in his prepared speech. “We believe two income-related factors are at play: An increase in high-paying jobs and a tendency of these jobs to concentrate in cities. This is an important and statistically robust factor in Toronto, less so in Vancouver. The impact in Vancouver may differ because wealth, rather than income, could play a much more pronounced part here.”

The B.C. government implemented a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver in August. On Tuesday, the province said purchasers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents accounted for 7.1 per cent of the total deals in Metro Vancouver closed between June 10 and Oct. 31.

British Columbia, which began collecting data on June 10 on foreign purchasers, noted that in the seven weeks leading up to the tax’s implementation on Aug. 2, foreign purchasers accounted for 13.2 per cent of the region’s total. The regional statistics, including transactions that involve buyers from China, are based on closed deals registered with the province’s land title office.

The price for detached houses sold in October within the City of Vancouver averaged more than $2.6-million, or double the average price for detached properties in the City of Toronto. The market in and around Vancouver remains the most expensive in Canada, despite prices dropping recently for detached houses, condos and townhomes.

“Our attachment to low-density single-family housing in many neighbourhoods represents regressive urban planning and makes the problem worse. This is basic economics. The more we hold back supply, the faster prices will rise in response to increased demand. And Vancouver’s supply response is among the weakest in Canada,” Mr. Siddall said in his speech.

In a new survey released on Wednesday, CMHC said the share of foreign buyers in Canada’s major markets is still low. The federal housing agency said foreign condo ownership in the metropolitan area of Vancouver has declined to 2.2 per cent in its latest survey of property managers and condo boards, compared with 3.5 per cent in the fall of 2015. In the Toronto region, the proportion of condos owned by people whose primary residence is outside of the country decreased to 2.3 per cent from 3.3 per cent, while dropping to 1.1 per cent from 1.3 per cent in the Montreal area.

Beyond the three largest markets, CMHC found that the share of international condo buyers has remained small in places such as Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax.

Source: CMHC head says foreign buyers a ‘scapegoat’ for high Vancouver prices – The Globe and Mail

The Asian force behind Vancouver’s housing boom

More on immigration and the over-heated Vancouver housing market and the related analysis by David Ley:

If he wanted to, geographer David Ley could consider himself a data point in his own research. It was back in 1996 that he was named UBC director of the Metropolis Project, an international inquiry into immigration and diversity. By that time, he’d seen his own Kerrisdale neighbourhood being remade by rich immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan who’d sent house prices soaring.

Ley’s 2010 book, Millionaire Migrants: Trans-Pacific Life Lines, displayed empathy for the immigrants while also identifying problems that their mass arrival wrought. By the time it was published, a new wave, this time from mainland China, had begun turbocharging Vancouver property markets yet again. For concerned officials and researchers, Ley’s book was one of the few resources available, even though it described an earlier time and a different group.

Today, a continuing lack of research and official data about the role of Chinese immigrants and investors in Vancouver’s housing insanity* remains, for some in government and the real estate industry, a rationale for doing nothing. “The interesting question is why there are deniers,” Ley says. “Often you find a vested interest.”

Ley’s latest research describes an influx of foreign capital turning Vancouver’s housing market into a Wild West land rush. He pins much of the blame on governments for whom rich Asian immigrants have become an easy fiscal fix.

In the early 1980s, Canada and especially British Columbia were in deep recession. One cure, governments in Ottawa and Victoria hoped, would be programs encouraging high-net-worth individuals from Asia and elsewhere to immigrate.**

While the immigrants did come, the economic benefits did not. It hardly mattered that Canada’s visas had less demanding standards than most other countries’, Ley says, because we didn’t uphold them anyway. Originally, aspiring business-class immigrants could choose from two main streams. In the investor stream, Canada required a lower net worth and minimum investment than did the United States – and, in the end, while banks and governments definitely got a take, there was never much in the way of actual investment.

Meanwhile, “with the entrepreneur stream, after two years you had to have hired one Canadian,” says Ley. “In the equivalent American scheme, you had to hire 10 Americans.” But in B.C. – where more than half of all business immigrants eventually landed*** – evaluations were minimal or were waived. “And this was because there was half a dozen people in the Vancouver office tasked with following up on the thousands of cases, which simply wasn’t possible.”

The Canada Revenue Agency has been similarly ineffective. The declared income of business immigrants is lower than any other category of immigrants, including refugees, Ley points out. Nor did we bother tracking property markets. The B.C. government did keep records of home buyers’ nationalities but stopped during the 1990s. “The reason I’ve heard is that there was a storage issue,” he says. “I’m passing that along while raising my eyebrows.”

Then there is the federal agency Fintrac, which is supposed to stop money laundering. Anecdotal information suggests that a large portion of Chinese buyers pay in cash (in the U.S., there is data).****  “The property market is one of the easiest ways to dispose of hot money,” Ley notes.

Ottawa abruptly eliminated both the investor and entrepreneur streams in 2014, but many of the 50,000 Chinese lined up at the time opted instead to use a new 10-year come-and-go visitor visa that does not lead to citizenship. Of the more than 300,000 Chinese come-and-gos that year, most were tourists, but a significant number employed it as an inexpensive, low-hassle mobility tool, in many cases to buy a second home occupied by student children.

In 2014 China had more than one million people with liquid assets of over $2-million. Up to 60 per cent were weighing or pursuing emigration, with Vancouver among the three top intended destinations. It’s hardly surprising that several surveys and estimates (none of them officially sanctioned, of course) place the proportion of Chinese buyers of detached homes on Vancouver’s west side at about 70 per cent and growing. “The top end of the market is not being supported by local conditions,” says Ley. “We’ve got a housing market that is totally out of whack with the labour market.” That is, people who actually hold jobs in Vancouver increasingly cannot afford to live there.

Some of the additional machinations that are throwing that market out of whack have only recently come to light. New Coast Realty stands accused of both shadow flipping and predatory pricing, following a Globe and Mail investigation.

Of course, there are beneficiaries besides the real-estate industry: namely, Vancouver homeowners. But not Ley. “My wife and I are steadfast stayers. But the craziness of the last six months has shifted a lot of people.”

Source: The Asian force behind Vancouver’s housing boom – The Globe and Mail

Blame politicians for Metro Vancouver’s housing price crisis

More analysis by David Ley on the roots of Vancouver’s housing prices (likely some similarities in Toronto’s overheated housing market although the pressures likely come from a more diverse group):

Canadian politicians, keen to stimulate B.C.’s economy, are responsible for creating the conditions that created Metro Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis, according to a new study.

Politicians decided to “reboot a troubled regional economy through an infusion of activity from the growth region of the Asia Pacific,” UBC geographer David Ley says in a peer-reviewed paper published in The International Journal of Housing Policy.

Largely as a result of governments’ efforts to attract wealthy immigrants and investment from East Asia, “house prices have risen rapidly and the detached housing market is now unaffordable to most Vancouver residents,” writes Ley.

Given that federal, provincial and municipal governments have shown a “minimal response” to Metro residents’ housing difficulties, Ley concludes most politicians have accepted that astronomical prices and mortgage debt are just the “collateral damage” from expanding the B.C. economy.

One of the federal government’s key policy tools for attracting Asia-Pacific money to Metro Vancouver real estate was the business-immigration program, says Ley, a leading expert on how the world’s “gateway” cities are changing because of high in-migration.

The program, which gave preferential treatment to wealthy migrants, proved extremely popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s and in Mainland China since 2000.

More than four out of five of the affluent people who took advantage of Canada’s business-immigrant program have arrived from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Ley found.

And roughly 200,000 of them moved to Metro Vancouver, where they account for almost nine per cent of the population, Ley estimates in his study, titled “Global China and the making of Vancouver’s residential property market.”

Repeated government trade missions to Asia in recent decades also effectively generated East Asians’ desire to invest in Metro Vancouver real estate, where Ley says deregulation meant local citizens would have virtually no legal protections from runaway housing costs.

Vancouver’s Expo 86, which took shape during the 1980s’ recession as a transportation fair, was a key event in Canadian governments’ strategy to market the city to Asians, Ley maintains.

The fair’s promotional power for enticing Asian money to Vancouver real estate, Ley said, boosted even higher when B.C.’s Social Credit government sold much of the Expo lands, at a low cost, to Hong Kong’s richest man, billionaire Li Ka-shing, owner of developer Concord Pacific.

The huge volume of Mainland Chinese multimillionaires who are coming to Metro Vancouver to buy property is out of proportion to the city’s relatively small size, Ley says.

“Vancouver, the closest major city to East Asia and with a high quality of life, is the most popular destination, especially for the wealthiest investor newcomers,” the vast majority of whom concentrate on real estate.

Source: Blame politicians for Metro Vancouver’s housing price crisis

Immigrants help drive Metro Vancouver’s housing market: study

Dan Hiebert and David Ley continue their insightful work in assessing ethnic concentration and impacts on housing:

Immigrants have a major impact on fast-rising house prices in Metro Vancouver and Toronto, according to the author of a new study.

In a unique research project, UBC geographer Daniel Hiebert discovered that ethnic Chinese and South Asians become homeowners at a much higher rate than other immigrants and the general population.

“There is definitely an impact on the housing market,” said Hiebert, who believes a key factor behind the phenomenon is many new immigrants arrive in Canada’s major cities with a great deal of money.

The veteran researcher’s exclusive cross-tabulation of housing and immigration data, including between 2006 and 2011, found on average that 53 per cent of immigrants to Metro Vancouver during those five years became homeowners in that period.

They bought roughly 100,000 homes in Metro Vancouver during the five years, ranging from suburban condos to ritzy mansions.

“New Chinese immigrants were at the top of all this. Kind of incredibly, their rate of home ownership was 73 per cent,” said Hiebert.

Roughly 52 per cent of newly arrived South Asians, the second largest immigrant group in Metro Vancouver, bought homes in that same five-year period.

Rounding out the five largest recent newcomer groups during that period, the rate of home buying among South Koreans was 51 per cent and among white and Filipino immigrants it was each about 44 per cent.

Hiebert, who has published major studies on immigration, housing and ethnic enclaves, believes immigrants are seriously affecting housing affordability at both the high and low ends of the market.

Prices of Metro Vancouver’s expensive properties, those in the $4-million-plus range, are being dramatically affected by immigrants, Hiebert said. But, at the low end, so are costs for new Syrian refugee families, who need government subsidies to afford a basic place to live.

While some of the new immigrants who end up classified as homeowners might be among the relatively few who arrive on a family reunification program and join an existing household, Hiebert believes most would be buying homes by transferring large financial resources into Canada.

“I think it would be a pretty big stretch for someone to arrive tabula rasa (without a lot of money) in a housing market like Vancouver and within five years be able to purchase a home in this place. That would be really difficult to expect.”

Hiebert’s findings support the conclusions of UBC’s David Ley, holder of the Canada Research Chair in geography and author of Millionaire Migrants. The Oxford-educated professor has found an “unusually decisive” correlation between high immigration to Metro Vancouver and high home prices.

The overall rate of home ownership among all residents in Metro Vancouver is almost 70 per cent — out of a total 1.5 million households, according to Hiebert’s work.

Based solely on visible-minority status, and disregarding immigrant status, ethnic “Chinese have the highest ratio of home ownership, followed by South Asians,” Hiebert said.

“The percentage of home ownership among Chinese is 81 per cent,” accounting for 290,000 Metro households, Hiebert said. “And South Asians are second at 75 per cent,” or roughly 160,000 households.

“Between these two largest groups, you’ve got much of the immigrant picture, which is why the immigrant picture looks better than the other picture (for non-immigrants),” said Hiebert.

Among smaller ethnic groups in Metro Vancouver, 62 per cent of Filipinos own homes, as do 59 per cent of West Asians (mostly Iranians).

Hiebert, who frequently advises the federal government, said his research did not include studying the rate of home ownership among non-immigrants, long-standing residents of Canada, or whites.

Nor does it delve into the specific effects of foreign ownership on Metro Vancouver housing costs.

And even though Hiebert said the high rate of home ownership among immigrants has a “definite” impact on housing, he said more careful analysis of sales is needed to measure it precisely.

He speculated the roughly 100,000 homes bought quickly by immigrants who arrived in Metro Vancouver between 2006 and 2011 would represent a “reasonable fraction” of all houses sold in that period, adding that proportion could be calculated after learning how many homes sell each year in the region.

Craig Munn, spokesman for the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said in an interview the average number of houses sold between 2006 and 2011 across the region of Metro Vancouver (which contains 21 municipalities from West Vancouver to Langley) was about 44,000 annually.

That adds up 220,000 home sales over that five-year period, which means the proportion bought by immigrants who arrived in that time alone would be about 45 per cent.

Hiebert, basing his work on novel cross-tabulations of the National Household Survey, found “stark differences” in new immigrants’ home ownership rates between Canada’s three largest cities.

While the home ownership rate in Metro Vancouver was 53 per cent and in Toronto 50 per cent among those who arrived between 2006 and 2011, it was just 23 per cent in Montreal.

“The much lower rate of home ownership in Montreal is ironic, because of course housing can be had for (roughly) 40 per cent of the price of Toronto or Vancouver,” he said.

“When housing prices escalate quickly, people feel they have to dive into home ownership. But there’s no sense of urgency in Montreal.”

Source: Immigrants help drive Metro Vancouver’s housing market: study

Metropolis Comments on my deck Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote

Good session at Metropolis 26 March presenting my deck Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote to a full room of 60 people. Helpful and thoughtful comments by the discussants and participants, helping me refine the narrative, and this summary of their comments may be of interest:

Joe Garcia of University of Saskatchewan highlighted how the vertical mosaic as described by Porter had become hybridized given the impact of increased diversity. This hybridization cut across different dimensions: ghettoization (or enclaves), social capital, social cohesion, social non-governmental organizations and identity. Society was more complex with more cross-cutting linkages and issues. He noted the significance of the citizenship data and its implications for inclusion.

Specific suggestions to complete the story from the descriptive and analytical approach of the deck included the need to provide an explicit framework, a narrative that both asked and answer questions, address the implications of the findings, discuss the limitations of available data and statistics (e.g., religion vs. religiosity), and identify data gaps and needs. (I noted the book would include these elements).

Annick Germain of the l’Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) noted the presentation was helpful in reminding us of the big picture, noting the contrast between the debate and the everyday reality which appears to be working reasonably well, citing the relatively small numbers of religious minorities that yet dominate public debate. More work needs to be done of public attitudes to diversity to help explain this gap. One of the ironies she flagged is that while visible minorities are more well-educated than non-visible minorities, they have higher unemployment rates and lower incomes.

With respect to concentration and dispersion, she flagged how in the past, the contrast was between the island of Montreal which had a large number of visible minorities and the rest of Quebec which had few. However, more immigrants have been settling in the suburbs of Laval and Longueuil, Quebec now has two faces: greater Montreal with its diversity and the “whiteness” of the rest of the province. The increased dispersion of visible minorities across greater Montreal may however reduce the relative political weight and influence of individual communities.

And in response to my remark that it is no longer MTV (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) but TVC (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary), she noted that Montreal has a more diverse mix of communities than Calgary even if the overall number is smaller.

David Ley of the Department of Geography, UBC, expressed concern regarding falling naturalization rates and the possible implications for identity. He also found the difference in citizenship test results between visible minorities and non-visible minorities worrisome as it could weaken the connection to and identification with Canada for affected groups.

He found the data on religious minorities valuable, and commented that the present-day vitality of religions was largely due to immigration given the relative strength and vitality of religion in the “South” compared to countries of the “North.” We may be moving towards post-secularism given this shift and how immigration is increasingly defining religion.

He raised the valid point that we may attribute too much power to what multiculturalism can achieve. How far can multicultural policies affect economic outcomes?

Lastly, he noted that segregation into ethnic enclaves is not necessarily a bad thing. Ethnic neighbourhoods can facilitate integration by providing newcomers with existing community support networks in their first years of settlement. However, one needs to guard against ethnic neighbourhoods that reproduce poverty.

Alden Habecon, Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development, UBC, and Publisher of Schema magazine started off by asking what was the intent of multiculturalism, what was its purpose, and what was it trying to achieve. Was multiculturalism sustainable, or are we having less interaction among communities, with stronger community identities? He questioned how inclusive we were, how open to difference?

Employment equity focussed on the numbers of visible minorities but paid less attention to economic outcomes. He was particularly alarmed about the economic outcomes of second generation 25-34 year old university educated visible minorities as some groups remained behind. “We haven’t neutralized race” as any percentage difference was a warning sign.

The disproportionate decline in visible minority citizenship test pass rates was an example of systematic racism.

More attitudinal research was needed and he reminded participants that research had shown that proximity, contact and exposure do not necessarily increase tolerance.

Participant comments were varied and included the following:

  • How has the narrative changed and what effects has that had?
  • Had a changed narrative permeated the public and changed reality?
  • Depending on the narrative, what should be the indicators to measure success (or failure)?
  • More work was needed on employment equity beyond the numbers to include economic outcomes.
  • Is the change in language from multiculturalism to pluralism significant?