Immigrant families more likely to own home than add to pension plan, StatsCan says

The impact of rising housing prices and the relative preference and ease for immigrant families to place their wealth in real estate:

Immigrant families who have been in Canada for more than two decades tend to be worth more than families who were born in the country, new data from Statistics Canada released Tuesday shows.

The data agency released an analysis of numbers from 1999 to the 2016 census, comparing immigrant families with those born in Canada and looking at various aspects of their financial lives.

The findings show that both groups have, on the whole, seen a big increase in their wealth over the past two decades.

The average wealth of established immigrant families — those whose major income earner was aged 45 to 64 and landed in Canada at least 20 years earlier — grew from $625,000 in 1999 to $1.06 million in 2016, an increase of $435,000, or more than 69 per cent.

Comparable families where the major income earner was born in Canada are worth less, on average, but saw a bigger gain, from $519,000 to $979,000. That’s an increase of $460,000 or more than 88 per cent.

One reason for the discrepancy may be that immigrant families are much more likely to put their money into real estate. “Compared with Canadian-born families, immigrant families generally hold a greater share of their wealth in housing but a smaller share in [registered pension plan] assets,” the data agency said.

On average, 69 per cent of the wealth increase for immigrant families can be traced to gains in the amount of equity that they have in their homes. That compares to 39 per cent for native-born Canadians.

On the flip side, one third of the wealth gain for Canadian-born families is because of increases in the value of pension plan assets. For immigrant families, that share is just 17 per cent.

Political sociologist Howard Ramos at Dalhousie University in Halifax says it is not surprising to see immigrants being relatively more eager to climb the housing ladder instead of putting their money into other things.

“Many people may not be getting RRSPs or other investments, because they may be self-employed or have had career disruption when they came to Canada,” he said in an interview, “which leads them to the one asset they can control — home ownership.”

“The evidence shows that this as a strategy has paid off in the past and is still paying off for newcomers today,” he said.

Immigrants’ preference for housing as an investment may also be a factor in their willingness to borrow, too. Established immigrant families had a debt to income ratio of 2.17 in 2016, compared with 1.32 for Canadian-born families.

“Most of the difference was due to the larger mortgages carried by immigrant families,” Statistics Canada said.

While their wealth levels may be different, the study shows that there’s little evidence that the two groups manage their finances any differently.

“Specifically, the study finds no evidence that immigrant families use payday loans, withdraw money from registered retirement savings plans or pay off only part of their monthly credit card balances to a greater extent than Canadian-born families of similar age do,” the data agency said.

Ramos says the numbers are some hard data to show that on the whole, immigrants largely become “model economic citizens” who are on the whole doing exactly what was hoped for them.

“It’s interesting to see the evidence of the success of immigrant economics.”

Jelena Zikic, an associate professor at York University’s school of human resource management who studies skilled immigrants, says “they have a mindset of being safe and secure,” so seeking to climb the property ladder makes a certain amount of sense.

“Most of the migrant motivation has to do with ‘I want my kids to be better off’,” she says. “There’s a fear of losing their ground in a new place, so they see [tangible investments] as a way to protect themselves.”

While it may be encouraging to see immigrants becoming wealthier the longer they are in Canada, she says that shouldn’t suggest that they have it easy — quite the opposite, in fact.

She says stories of very qualified skilled immigrants coming to Canada and then having to take low-paying jobs because their credentials aren’t recognized are rampant, something that is bad for them and bad for Canadian society.

“There’s a ceiling effect,” she says. “They enter, but they can’t always progress.”

She adds that those who do succeed often do so because of their own resilience.

“They had very strong motivations to come to Canada, so when they are here they do everything they can [to move up],” she says.

Source: Immigrant families more likely to own home than add to pension plan, StatsCan says

Previous housing data understated number of non-resident buyers in Vancouver and Toronto

The importance of good data and how it could have made a difference in public discussion and debate (not that the real estate industry is likely to change its position given its business interests). Particularly worrisome that a government agency, CMHC, got it so wrong in 2015 with a flawed methodology:

Not so long ago, real estate industry and government officials were doing their best to shut down concerns that skyrocketing housing prices in Vancouver and Toronto were related to non-resident buying.

As it turns out, they were very wrong.

“Basically, if we put every residential property unit that was built in the city of Vancouver from 2006 to 2017 into a single building, every tenth unit [and a bit more] would have been owned by somebody who doesn’t live in the country,” says Andy Yan, urban planner and director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

The CMHC condo survey of 2015, a busy year for the real estate market, maintained that foreign ownership of condos was low in metro Vancouver and metro Toronto, at 3.5 and 3.3 per cent respectively.

In 2016, Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation chief executive Evan Siddall told the Vancouver Board of Trade that blaming foreign buying was creating an “unhealthy tension” between “existing residents and newer arrivals.” Instead, he pointed to local investors, population growth and lack of supply as the big factors in Vancouver’s affordability crisis.

But the CMHC’s latest Housing Market Insight report, released last week, shows the previously released data were off by as much as two to three times the actual rate of non-resident participation in home ownership. Based upon the new study, the numbers are actually 11.2 for metro Vancouver and 7.6 for metro Toronto.

The CMHC’s new Housing Market Insight report, in partnership with Statistics Canada, now reveals the extent of non-resident buying in Vancouver. The CMHC had begun releasing its Condominium Apartment Survey in 2014, after collecting information on non-resident ownership, in response to the affordability crisis. But the CMHC only had access to condo data and its methodology was limited. It partnered with Statistics Canada to form the Canadian Housing Statistics Program (CHSP), to address the major gaps in data on housing. In 2017, as part of the federal budget, StatsCan got extra funding to delve deeper into offshore buying, which is when the data got more interesting – and far more accurate. It meant that instead of interviewing building managers about the number of foreign owners in the buildings – an obviously problematic method – the CMHC had data from Canada Revenue Agency and the provincial land titles office to verify tax residency.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation is the rate of non-resident participation in the buying of newly built condos across the region.

“Of the housing units owned by non-residents, 55 per cent are condos,” says Jordan Nanowski, senior CMHC analyst and co-author of the report.

Where non-resident ownership is concerned, metro Vancouver overshadowed Toronto by a wide margin. And new builds were a particular draw. Non-resident owners played a part in 19.2 per cent of Vancouver condos built between 2016 and 2017. In other words, almost 20 per cent of condos built that year had at least one non-resident on title. In Toronto, meanwhile, the number falls to a mere 9 per cent.

Mr. Yan dug deeper into the CHSP data, and came up with more numbers. Non-residents have participated in the ownership of a shocking 14 per cent of all housing types built in the city of Vancouver in the past decade (as in, at least one person who owns the property is a non-resident). For metro Vancouver, that rate is 11.2 per cent. For the city of Toronto, the rate is 8 per cent; metro Toronto is 5.2 per cent.

In Coquitlam, B.C., 20.8 per cent of new condos had at least one non-resident on title. In Surrey, B.C., the figure is 20.5 per cent of condos in that time period. Burnaby, B.C., is at 25.1 per cent. Richmond, B.C., has the highest percentage of all, at a whopping 25.8 per cent, he says.

“In Richmond, condos built between 2016 to 2017, we’re talking about 26 per cent have non-resident participation. That’s one in four.”

The numbers are big in the broader housing market picture as well, with 7.8 per cent of all single detached houses built in metro Vancouver from 2006 to 2017 owned by at least one non-resident purchaser. For condos, the numbers jumps to 18 per cent of all condos built in that time period.

“This is something that people have denied for so long,” Mr. Yan says. “It measures a form of foreign ownership that many have denied was happening, and in proportions that few could imagined.”

Mr. Nanowski says that non-resident participation tended to increase when density increased and prices increased. Across all age groups, non-residents tended to own more expensive homes. But a number that stood out for him was the higher prices of detached homes owned by non-residents in the city of Vancouver. Detached homes in the city owned by non-residents were, on average, assessed at $1.1-million more than those owned by residents. In Toronto, the difference of a detached house owned by resident and non-resident was only $89,000.

“Big difference,” Mr. Nanowski said. “Yes, non-resident premiums are largest in Vancouver and the prevalences are largest in Vancouver as well.”

Using new methodology, the crown corporation has revealed that many properties have a mix of resident and non-resident ownership. They analyzed this mix in the category of “non-resident participation,” meaning at least one owner on title was a non-resident. Put another way, at least one person on title is a non-tax resident, which means they do not have a principal tax residence in Canada. They earn their income and pay their income taxes elsewhere. This is a key difference from the CMHC’s previous methodology, which was to define “non-resident” ownership as a property that was owned entirely by non-residents, or majority-owned by non-residents.

The definition of a “non-resident” is someone whose principal residence is outside of Canada, irrespective of their nationality.

Also, these rates do not include pre-sale purchases, or what units were not owner-occupied and held as investments. The study authors did not provide data on the source countries of origin for non-resident owners.

“The summary of all this is the globalization of Canadian residential real estate,” Mr. Yan said, “and what are you going to do or not do about it, on a federal, provincial and local policy basis? This is about transparency, taxation and fairness, and how we build housing and for who, in our communities.”

Mr. Nanowski says the previous data they used weren’t flawed, but useful for following trends. The new data is much more comprehensive, he says.

“When we look at this data, we want to compare it to itself only, as a kind of cross section and not compare it to previous data. Because there is a change in methodology,” he says.

Josh Gordon, assistant professor at the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University, says that the delay of such important data has likely been a setback. He points out that industry voices used the previously limited CMHC data to bolster their arguments that foreign buying was exaggerated. Prof. Gordon had questioned the CMHC’s reports at the time, and received some flak for it.

“Imagine in 2015 if we had a sense that non-resident buyers were buying 15 per cent or so of new condos. How would that have changed the nature of the debate? Would that not have indicated that there was an issue that needed addressing?,” Prof. Gordon asks.

“Those who wanted to push back against possible restrictions were able to use the ‘authority’ of the CMHC in the debate to good effect, and this delayed possible policy action. More accurate data would have helped build the case for policy restrictions, and that might have mitigated the sharp escalation of prices.”

Mr. Yan found it ironic that the report was released the same week as the City of Vancouver announced its annual homeless count was underway.

“Perversely, this week saw the release of measures on two drastically different ends of Vancouver’s housing situation. With the CMHC release, we see the numbers of homeowners who don’t live in the country, juxtaposed with Vancouver doing its homeless count of those who actually live here, but don’t have the benefit of a home.”

Douglas Todd: Is B.C. immigration program a back door for millionaire house buyers?

Interesting questions regarding a possible backdoor.

A question I find also interesting is looking at reported income through tax returns to get a sense of how well these immigrants are doing and whether their capital that allows them to purchase a house is matched by an ongoing income stream (rhetorical question – see Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income where the data suggests it is not):

How did it come to pass that thousands of people who came to Metro Vancouver through a provincial immigration scheme bought pricey houses?

A Statistics Canada report shows 2,370 people who recently arrived in B.C. through a provincial immigration program have bought single-family houses worth an average of $2.38 million in Metro Vancouver, which is $800,000 above the norm for Canadian-born house buyers.

It’s a startling figure, in part because politicians often trumpet how the relatively small provincial immigration programs were created primarily to fine-tune Ottawa’s bulkier immigration policy by pinpointing the right skilled workers for each local labour market.

Given that the emphasis of so-called “provincial nominee programs” is supposed to be on newcomers looking for a job, how have thousands since 2009 been able to quickly buy pricey Metro Vancouver real estate? It’s difficult to get an answer from officialdom. So we’re left to our own devices to figure out this irregular access.

I’m not alone in suggesting one of the last things most young people need in Metro Vancouver’s unaffordable housing market is to be squeezed out by another stream of foreign capital. The B.C. NDP government is among those trying to crack down on this price-inflating phenomenon associated with “satellite families” who buy stately homes.

But the revealing data is there in the particulars of a January Statistics Canada report. Its charts point to the way many families are coming to Metro Vancouver with large amounts of wealth, which they’ve been funnelling into housing.

Chart shows value of Metro Vancouver detached homes bought by recent newcomers under the Provincial Nominee Program and other immigration investor schemes. (Source: Statistics Canada report titled Immigrant Ownership of Residential Properties in Toronto and Vancouver.)

And it’s not only Metro Vancouver’s housing market that has been hit by millionaire migrants entering through provincial immigration programs. So has Greater Toronto’s. The average price of a Toronto house bought by a recent provincial nominee is $1.06 million, according to the StatsCan report, while the average price of a detached house of Canadian-born owners in Toronto is significantly less, $849,000.

And just as in Metro Vancouver, it is the recent newcomers to Toronto from China who have had the most cash to spend on property. Mainland Chinese make up about two of three of the home buyers in each city who arrived through the nominee program.

The StatsCan report, titled Immigrant Ownership of Residential Properties in Toronto and Vancouver, offers only a snapshot of this provincial nominee mansion phenomenon, however. It doesn’t capture the program’s link to condominiums. And it leaves open speculation about causes.

Therefore, many questions remain outstanding about what is going on with provincial nominee programs, questions which are typically paid little heed.

B.C.’s provincial nominee program brought 6,500 newcomers to the province in 2018, a large jump from the 2,600 it  welcomed a decade earlier.

But it is a puzzle how 2,370 provincial nominees since 2009 were able to quickly buy costly houses in Metro Vancouver, especially when the vast majority of such nominees were classified as “workers.”

Only about one per cent of provincial nominees to B.C. — an average of about 80 a year — arrive under the “entrepreneur” category. They are the ones who are worth more than $600,000 and required to invest $200,000 in a B.C. business. It’s common sense to expect many in this tiny group of entrepreneur/investors to arrive in B.C. with capital and to pump part or most of it into real estate.

That is exactly what happened with the federal government’s investor program, which the Conservatives killed in 2014 because so many rich immigrants were snapping up Canadian property but not operating businesses or paying significant income taxes.

Despite such unintended consequences, a large entrepreneur program continues to be run by Quebec. It cynically takes millions from thousands of rich would-be immigrants each year, even while most hastily move to Vancouver or Toronto.

Indeed, the January StatsCan report shows the average value of a detached house bought by more than 4,400 millionaire immigrants who came to Metro Vancouver in the past decade under Ottawa’s investor program, and the one operated by Quebec, is $3.2 million. That’s unfortunate enough in regards to fuelling high-end prices, with its trickle-down effect to all housing.

But how is it that the much smaller provincial nominee programs of B.C. and perhaps other provinces are also bringing in thousands of wealthy home buyers headed for Vancouver and Toronto?

A spokeswoman for B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology, which oversees the provincial nominee program, wouldn’t venture a guess. “It is good to see newcomers coming to Canada and being able to invest in their own business and homes,” she said. “We are unable to speculate on the amount of foreign capital they bring into Canada.”

The minister of jobs, trade and technology, Bruce Ralston, also declined to comment until he had a look at the Statistics Canada report. “It’s an area where I’d have to have the facts.”

In the meantime here are a few questions that need to be answered.

Is it possible many of the buyers of Metro Vancouver mansions are coming in not only from B.C.’s nominee program, but from other provincial programs, such as that in Prince Edward Island, which was cancelled last year. It was riddled with fraud and hundreds of would-be immigrants used fake addresses to pretend they lived in P.E.I.

Another question is whether people buying expensive Metro Vancouver properties are coming in through a camouflaged nominee category, such as “skilled worker.”

The top occupations of those coming in the past two years under the B.C. provincial nominee’s “skilled worker” category were restaurant and food service employees, including cooks and kitchen helpers, as well truck drivers and retail managers.

While Ralston said he needs to gather more information before commenting on whether immigrants who buy expensive houses in Metro Vancouver are coming in as truck drivers, food workers or another irregular category, he justifiably noted Attorney General David Eby and Finance Minister Carole James are trying to tackle a related aspect of the housing crisis.

The two major aims of the ministers’ new speculation and vacancy tax are to increase housing supply by reducing the number of empty dwellings and by targeting satellite families, who often buy and live in expensive properties but pay little or no income tax in Canada.

Since thousands of millionaire migrants appear to have found backdoor ways to enter Metro Vancouver’s over-priced housing market through the Provincial Nominee Program, it looks as if this scheme is part of the problem. As such it needs far more scrutiny.

Source: Douglas Todd: Is B.C. immigration program a back door for millionaire house buyers?

New Immigrants Spending $620,000 More on Vancouver Houses

Interesting differences between Vancouver and Toronto:

Vancouver homes purchased by recent immigrants are worth a third more on average than those owned by Canadians, a government study found.

People who moved to the Pacific coast city between 2009 and 2016 own 5 percent of the detached properties, which are worth C$2.34 million ($1.76 million) on average, or C$824,000 more than those owned by people born in Canada, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday. The gap in Vancouver prices is much larger than for immigrants who arrived earlier, and the same pattern doesn’t hold for Toronto, the agency said.

The report is one of the most detailed yet on immigration and housing in Vancouver and Toronto, the nation’s two most-expensive real estate markets. Policy makers are seeking to get a handle on the decade-long housing boom that drove prices to unprecedented levels, creating record household debt burdens and an affordability crisis.

Tuesday’s report said the role newcomers play in the Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets reflects the large share of the population they represent in each city. Immigrants own 37 percent of homes in Vancouver and made up 41 percent of the population in 2016, while in Toronto they own 43 percent of homes and were 46 percent of the population.

Toronto’s recent immigrants own 4.7 percent of single-detached homes worth an average of C$892,600, or just C$43,300 higher than other Canadian-born owners, the study found. It didn’t give a detailed explanation of why the shift to expensive homes in Vancouver by recent immigrants wasn’t mirrored in Toronto, saying a more detailed study would require many more years of data.

The Vancouver price gap was even larger under an immigration program that targeted new investors in Canada. Recent arrivals to the city under that federal program bought single-detached properties worth an average of C$3.11 million. Across several immigration categories, recent immigrants to Vancouver from China spent more on housing than people from nations such as India or the U.K.

Immigrants may spend more on housing because they have fewer savings in traditional retirement accounts or because of different cultural attitudes, the report said. “Home ownership might be an important milestone for immigrants in the path towards social and economic integration,” it said. “Investments in housing may also be a more important retirement asset and source of wealth creation for immigrants.”

Source: New Immigrants Spending $620,000 More on Vancouver Houses

Douglas Todd: B.C.’s foreign-buyers tax is nothing special and not xenophobic

Agree:

It is hard to find a country that allows foreigners to freely buy its land. It is much easier to find countries that restrict foreigners’ purchases of property.

But that hasn’t stopped Chinese national Jing Li, assisted by some Canadian academics, from launching a lawsuit against the B.C. government’s 20 per cent tax on foreign buyers of residential properties.

Li, an international student who used her family’s money to buy a townhouse in Langley, argues the tax illegally discriminates against people on the basis of their national origin and has been stirred up by “unfair biases and stereotypes.” UBC academics Nathan Lauster and Henry Yu produced affidavits supporting Li’s argument the tax is xenophobic, especially towards Asians and specifically Chinese.

However, based on the logic of Li, Lauster, Yu and others who made their arguments last week before a B.C. Supreme Court judge, most countries of the world are xenophobic and perhaps racist — since most countries have a range of curbs on foreign buyers of property, with Li’s own populous country, China, throwing up some of the toughest controls.

Asian countries with restrictions on foreign buyers include the biggest: China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, plus Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Australia allows foreign nationals to buy only new dwellings, while New Zealand is developing a surtax.

There are also special constraints on foreign buyers in Mexico and even in the U.S. Many South American nations, including giant Brazil, limit foreign owners. So do many European countries.

While Li, to the applause of some Canadian property developers, has challenged the sovereignty of B.C. and Ontario (and Manitoba and Prince Edward Island) in bringing in restrictions on foreign buyers, most countries have no compunction in limiting foreign investors.

In China, the restrictions on foreign buyers of property are tricky, onerous, costly and always changing. For starters, foreigners might be shocked to find they can never actually own “dirt” in China, because the government maintains complete ownership of all land. Foreigners and citizens can only buy buildings.

Foreign nationals in China have had to prove they have been living in the country a year before they can buy property. It’s just one of hundreds of rules that countries around the world have to control foreign ownership.

A foreign national has had to meet numerous requirements to buy a dwelling in China, including proving they have been living in the country for at least a year. That is a residency requirement Canadian politicians never raise as even a possibility.

China, like most countries, makes no gesture toward a reciprocal arrangement with Canada or anywhere else.

And the laws vary abruptly by region in China. Foreigners who want to buy a house in Shanghai, for instance, have to prove they’re married. In Beijing, foreigners have to pay taxes for at least five years before officials allow them to buy a structure. And, even after that, a foreigner in Beijing can only buy one property, which has to be residential.

China’s regulations, designed to help its own citizens, go on and on.

Since, like most Asian countries, China also allows in extremely few immigrants, it is virtually impossible to become a citizen and then buy property in the country. The foreign-born portion of the population in most Asian countries is typically less than one per cent.

Many Muslim-majority countries also restrict foreign ownership. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation, foreigners can’t own land but can lease apartments (though not detached dwellings). Does that mean Indonesian officials are xenophobic, or simply protecting locals?

While the surtax in B.C. and Ontario applies equally to all foreign nationals, Turkey targets specific nations in the name of protection and political strategy. Turkey won’t allow people from neighbouring Russia or Greece to buy land in its popular border regions. Cubans and Nigerians are forbidden from buying anywhere in Turkey, which also places limitations on citizens of China and Denmark while allowing others more access.

European countries have various curbs. Denmark’s housing market is highly regulated; foreign nationals from outside Europe cannot buy real estate unless they prove they are permanent residents and will live full-time in the dwelling. Even European Union citizens cannot buy summer homes on Denmark’s sought-after coast. Britain has its own limits. And though large countries like France and Germany are fairly open, small Switzerland has erected more barriers than Denmark.

Even in North America, where free-market capitalism is said to reign supreme, both of our NAFTA partners have restrictions on foreign buyers.

The U.S. has subtle constraints on foreign ownership, including convoluted tax demands. A foreigner selling real estate in the U.S. must immediately send 10 per cent of the sale value to the Internal Revenue Service, where it’s held to pay capital gains. Foreigners also usually end up paying more death taxes on their U.S. properties than Americans.

Mexico simply doesn’t allow foreigners to directly buy the deed to properties in its so-called “restricted zone,” which covers everything within 100 kilometres of its coastline. Foreigners trying to snag properties in the restricted zone have to go through a knotty legal process.

All of which suggests the foreign-buyers tax in B.C. and Ontario — compared to the incredible range of restrictions around the world — is distinctly middle of the road.

And if critics deem the foreign-buyers tax to be xenophobic or racist, they must be ready to toss the same epithets at most of the world’s nations.

Source: Douglas Todd: B.C.’s foreign-buyers tax is nothing special and not xenophobic

Andy Yan, the analyst who exposed Vancouver’s real estate disaster: Terry Glavin

Nowadays he’s the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, and while he’s too modest to boast about it, along the way he’s picked up a couple of exceedingly rare civic distinctions.

The first is the enduring enmity of all the politicians, real estate speculators, white-collar currency pirates and money launderers who have turned Vancouver into a global swindler’s paradise for real estate racketeering, a city that is now also one of the world’s most hopelessly pathetic urban landscapes of housing affordability. The second thing Yan has earned is an unfettered and unimpeachable right to say “I told you so.”

Three years ago, Yan was anxious to get a handle on the role foreign capital was playing in Vancouver’s weirdly convulsing real estate market. At the time, Yan’s main gig was his work as an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects, on contract as an urban planner. When Yan published the results of his research in November, 2015, it came as a shock, for two main reasons. It seemed to conclusively prove what everybody knew but nobody was supposed to say out loud. And it broke a taboo that was enforced so absurdly that Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson resorted to dismissing Yan’s research as racist.

Yan found that buyers with “non-Anglicised Chinese names” had picked up two-thirds of 172 houses sold over a six-month period beginning in September 2014 in Vancouver’s posh west side neighbourhoods. Contrary to public perception, however, the buyers weren’t just showing up with “bags of cash” to make their buys. Some of Canada’s biggest banks were in on it. Roughly 80 per cent of the deals involved a mortgage, and half of the mortgages were held by two banks – CIBC and HSBC.

Canada’s banks have mastered the manipulation of clandestine back channels around China’s currency control regulations—the same routes that well-connected Chinese multi-millionaires have been using to shift up to a trillion dollars’ worth of yuan out of China every year. What wasn’t clear about what was happening on Vancouver’ s west side, however, was who the real buyers were, exactly. The new homeowners’ most commonly stated occupation: housewife or homemaker.

Fast forward three years. The weirdness that Yan documented in Point Grey, Dunbar, Kerrisdale and Shaughnessy has rapidly spread southward and eastward, decoupling the bonds linking incomes with housing values across Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, all the way out to Surrey and White Rock on the Canada-U.S. border. Metro Vancouver’s real estate market is now a dystopian tableau of panic buying, tax fraud, property flipping, overseas pre-construction condominium sales, stone cold speculation and elaborate, multiple-account money transfer rigmaroles that are the conduit of choice for drug cartel tycoons. Not even the heaviest regulatory hands at the controls of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state seem capable of shutting the networks down.

It’s not just about shady Chinese money—not by a long shot. Vancouver’s old establishment property developers and real-estate companies fed the frenzies and made a killing. Along the way, they greased the skids by pouring buckets of money into Gregor Robertson’s now-dying Vision Vancouver civic party and Christy Clark’s Liberal Party. Robertson is now a sad figure, his legacy a shambles, his term up in October, and even his celebrated relationship with his glamorous girlfriend, the Chinese pop star Wanting Qu, fell apart last year. Qu’s mother, a Communist Party official in Harbin, remains on trial on charges of embezzling $70 million in a land swindle. Christy Clark is history, too. Her government was toppled last year by John Horgan’s New Democrats. With at least 60,000 Chinese immigrant investors sloshing their money around Metro Vancouver real estate over the past few years, federal politicians, too—Liberals, mainly—have been more than happy to rake it in at cash-for-access soirees and in generous donations to election campaign war chests.

In these ways, in Vancouver’s political circles, and in polite company, one simply didn’t mention the way the city’s housing market was being restructured to serve as an offshore investment bolthole for billions of dollars’ worth of shadow currency being spirited out of China, Iran, Russia and other such kleptocracies. But back in 2015, when the profoundly caucasian Mayor Robertson attempted to dismiss Yan’s findings—“I’m very concerned with the racist tones that are implied here,” Robertson said—it was a smear too far.

Yan’s great-grandfather was allowed into Canada only after being obliged to pay the infamously racist head tax Ottawa put in effect to keep out working-class Chinese immigrants. Students, merchants and diplomats were exempt. The head tax was in place until 1923. Yan wasn’t going to put up with Robertson’s backchat, and by that time, Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese community leaders had similarly lost their patience. White real estate moguls and politicians like Robertson persisted in proclaiming their anti-racist bona fides and purporting to be the champions of Vancouver’s Chinese community by shutting down public debates about the region’s housing catastrophe. Brandon Yan, a civic activist and volunteer on Vancouver’s planning commission, put it best: “Let’s leave it to the rich white dudes to decide what’s racist, right?”

Vancouver’s “condo king” Bob Rennie—a primary financial backer of Robertson’s NDP-tilting Vision Vancouver team and also the chief fundraiser for the NDP’s adversaries in Christy Clark’s Liberals—had cultivated a particularly brazen habit of it. “So you had these whispers about racism being used to shut down a dialogue about affordability and the kind of city we want to build here,” Andy Yan explained. “It’s a kind of moral signalling to camouflage immoral actions. It’s opportunism, and it’s a cover for the tremendous injustices that are emerging in the City of Vancouver and across the region. It’s a weird Vancouver thing. It’s very annoying. It’s kale in the smoothies or something.”

While the politicians and their friends in the property industry were making speeches about diversity and the importance of having sensitive feelings, foreign ownership grew to account for more than $45 billion dollars’ worth of Metro Vancouver residential property. Within Vancouver city limits, 7.6 per cent of all residential properties are now owned directly by individuals “whose principal residence is outside of Canada,” by the definition of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Roughly one in ten Vancouver condos are owned by non-residents. And that’s just the owners we know about.

Transparency International reckons that perhaps half of Vancouver’s most expensive properties are owned by shell companies or trusts, with the nominal owners commonly listed as student, housewife, or homemaker. Roughly 99 per cent of the single detached houses within Vancouver’s city limits are now valued in excess of $1 million. More than 20,000 Vancouver homes are vacant, year round. Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate is hovering just below one per cent.

“I’m always careful about using biomedical analogies,” Yan told me the other day, “but what was like a little skin ailment, if you will, over the last 10 or 15 years, has become a full fledged cancer.” Over just the past four years, throughout Metro Vancouver, homes worth $1 million or more have risen from 23 per cent of the housing market in 2014 to 73 per cent of the market now. Yan has been putting together a series of maps that show how the $1 million “red line” has been moving inexorably across the region, deep into the suburbs. “But what those maps don’t do is they don’t factor in transportation costs,” Yan said. “The top two expenditures of any Canadian household is shelter and transportation. God help you if you factor in child care. The whole map might as well be red. A number of factors have all come together to produce this catastrophic situation, but what was a small concentrated pattern in the west side of Vancouver has now metastasized to hit every single part of the region, and it’s similarly metastasized into the rest of the economy.”

As for where things are headed, Horgan’s NDP government has raised expectations, mainly because of Attorney-General David Eby’s avowed determination to chase dirty money out of Vancouver’s housing market and bust up the gangland playground B.C.’s provincially-licenced casinos have become—money laundered through casinos has also been pouring into residential property acquisitions. In Tuesday’s throne speech,  delivered by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, Horgan’s government directly addressed tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in the real estate market, hinting that a speculation tax is in the works. Next week, the New Democrats release their first full budget. The housing file, however, falls mainly to the more timid Carole James, former NDP leader and now deputy premier and finance minister. Preliminary indications aren’t particularly promising.

With short-term AirBnB rentals swallowing up long-term rental inventory, Yan was less than impressed with James’ solution, announced last week: short-term rental outfits will now pay the eight per cent provincial sales tax, and two or three per cent in municipal taxes. “That’s like taxing cigarettes to pay for lung cancer treatments,” Yan said.

Developing appropriately punitive taxes to discourage property-flipping and offshore pre-construction sales – those are obvious fixes. But knowing how to fix things requires a clear understanding of what’s wrong, Yan says, and closing the “bare trust loophole” that allows property owners to hide their holdings is a must-do. Ontario closed the loophole back in the 1980s. Clark’s Liberals promised to close it, but they never did.

In the meantime, Yan is focusing on converting hidden-away data into publicly comprehensible information. Some key information Yan has drawn from a trove recently released by Statistics Canada’s Canadian Housing Statistics Program, for instance, shows that simply building more condominiums won’t do. A condo building boom in Metro Vancouver has kept the property developers happy, but there’s no evidence that the boost in supply has lessened demand or beaten back prices. Nearly one in five condos built in Vancouver since 2016 were snapped up by non-residents.

To a certain extent, there’s nothing new here,” Yan said, pointing to the Guinness family’s financing of the Lion’s Gate Bridge in the 1920s, and the opening up of the British Properties on Burrard Inlet’s north shore. “But what is new is the hyper-commodification of residential real estate, mixed in with an intensification of global flows of people and capital. It’s just a statement in fact. We’re talking about the globalization of the Chinese economy and its impacts.”

Yan says there may be some solution—a mix of remedies, new laws, purpose-built rental housing, tax adjustments and so on—that does not mean a collapse in Metro Vancouver’s real estate prices. Channelling foreign investment in such a way as to serve the public interest might be possible. “But whether this comes out as a bubble-popping isn’t the point. That’s a secondary concern to the kind of society we want to build. “We need to go back to civic virtues.

“We need to talk about the sacrifices we are willing and we need to make for the greater good of the community. We need to have a discussion about what the public good is, and what we are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.”

Source: Andy Yan, the analyst who exposed Vancouver’s real estate disaster

Douglas Todd: Here’s how to end migration scams by the global rich in Canada

Todd continues his series of articles on immigration scams involving wealthy immigrants, including the issue of taxation, particularly those who ‘park’ their family in Canada while continuing to live and work in their country of origin.

I am currently analyzing citizenship take-up by immigration category and business immigrants (entrepreneurs, investors) have the largest gap between relatively low principal applicant naturalization (mainly men) and secondary applicants (their families):

Canada could crack down in many ways on the scams performed by “ghost immigrants” who avoid paying their share of Canadian taxes while driving up housing prices in Vancouver and Toronto.

Immigration and tax specialists are pressing Ottawa to adopt numerous proposals they believe would put an end to widespread illegitimate migration schemes, such as those employed by two rich families from China, whose tactics were exposed this month in B.C. Supreme Court.

The case of Fu versus Zhu revealed how the wealthy families, who had together bought three expensive homes on the west side of Vancouver, had been engaging in illicit plots involving Canadian real estate, tax avoidance and lying about their immigration status.

“The problem is that there is large-scale immigration of relatively wealthy people to Canada who are not contributing significantly, if at all, to the Canadian tax base,” said David Lesperance, a specialist in Canadian tax and immigration law.

“They have bid up the housing markets in Vancouver and Toronto. They are also receiving the benefits of Canadian permanent resident status, including excellent schooling, free medical care, security and (eventually, as citizens) an excellent visa-free passport.”

Noted Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland shares much of the unease of Lesperance – including frustration that Canadian authorities are not enforcing the country’s rules when would-be immigrants fail to declare their worldwide income, pretend to spend time in Canada and obscure the real owners of their properties.

The two specialists have appeared before politicians in Ottawa to offer their ideas on fighting such scams. They agree problems have been created by Canada welcoming so many investor families, in which the breadwinners often become “ghosts immigrants” with little connection to Canada other than engaging in property speculation.

A recent investigation by the South China Morning Post, for instance, found that more than 40 per cent of the breadwinners for recent millionaire migrant households in Canada appear to have left Canada, although some left family members behind. It’s a widespread phenomenon, said the newspaper, among rich Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese migrants.

Lesperance and Kurland maintain their proposals would be especially helpful in dealing with the increasing number of trans-national “astronaut” migrants who use Canadian real-estate primarily as a place to park their capital and sometimes their offspring.

The specialists would especially target the rapidly growing number of would-be Canadians who are renouncing their permanent resident status, which some are using as a way to avoid paying taxes in Canada while still visiting often on 10-year visas.

“Unfortunately, the perception of too many (wealthy) immigrants is that cheats are not sought after or detected” by Canadian tax or border officials, said Lesperance. To eliminate the problem of ‘ghost immigrants,’ the Canadian Revenue Agency must change this perception.”

Both experts emphasize how important it is for the CRA to do far more tax audits of investors, domestic and offshore, who buy up numerous properties. Authorities should particularly focus, they say, on the dubious techniques accountants have cooked up for avoiding paying taxes on their capital gains.

In the complex world of immigration law, perhaps the most radical idea for reform comes from Lesperance, who says it would reduce foreign speculation in Canadian real estate and curtail the tax evasion illustrated by clothing manufacturing mogul Quoqing Fu in the B.C. Supreme Court case.

The judge mocked Fu’s testimony after learning he had told the CRA his worldwide income, which is subject to taxes in Canada, was just $97.11.

Instead of authorities trying in vain to determine whether would-be immigrants are physically present in Canada, Lesperance recommends rating them mostly on whether they pay significant income taxes in Canada — regardless of which country in which they spend most of their time.

There is not much wrong with rich people travelling the world to work, invest and run businesses, argues Lesperance, who is based in Europe. Many would be satisfied, he says, to hold two passports while still paying their share of taxes on their global incomes to Canada, in return for “a stable and safe place for their global operations” and their children.

Canada is losing out on these entrepreneurial newcomers, he says, because its immigration policy focuses on migrants having a sustained “physical presence” in the country. The major resistance to this idea, Lesperance said, comes from those who believe newcomers “must rub elbows at Tim Horton’s to become Canadianized.”

The trouble with Canada’s current residency-based approach to immigration, said Lesperance, is that it often doesn’t work and “we get people like the Fu family abusing the tax system, but we scare away the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.”

Even though Kurland strongly believes Canada needs to stop exploitation of the country by high-net-worth tax-avoiding newcomers who speculate in real estate, the Vancouver immigration lawyer continues to believe there is value in immigrants integrating into the country by “rubbing shoulders” with Canadians.

Kurland, author of the Lexbase newsletter, also worries that, unless wealthy would-be immigrants who are not often present in the country simply write Canada a big cheque in exchange for citizenship, too many would have their accountants find ways to hide their riches in a trust fund.

Alternatively, one of Kurland’s more innovative recommendations is for the federal government “to very visibly invite Chinese tax collectors to Vancouver,” a move which would dramatically remind cheaters to submit to the rigours of Canada’s tax and security treaties with China, which is launching its own crackdown.

Kurland also believes that, in this new era “in which global computer systems can carefully track individuals’ travel,” it is fast becoming easier and less costly for Canadian authorities to catch people who are not following the country’s immigration and tax rules.

Ultimately, however, like Lesperance, Kurland believes the following is the most important thing that will lead to a clampdown on migration scams in Canada involving false tax claims and real-estate speculation:

“It’s a pure question of political will.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Here’s how to end migration scams by the global rich in Canada

Douglas Todd: Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese irked by inequality, tax avoidance

More good reporting on under-reporting of income in Vancouver. Not surprising that Chinese Canadians, likely particularly second generation, are as concerned as any one:

When urban planner Andy Yan spent an hour last week on a Fairchild radio talk show, every Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking person who called was irate about growing housing inequality and tax avoidance.

“It really surprised me. The biggest lesson out of it was that Chinese-speaking people are as concerned as everyone about fairness and transparency and accountability,” Yan said.

The housing researcher said Chinese-Canadians appear as worked up as others about the growing gap between the house-rich and the rent-poor in this metropolis of 2.4 million people, in which one in five people have Chinese origins.

Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, found in a study of the 2016 census that Metro Vancouver led the 10 most-populous cities in Canada in having the highest percentage (16.5 per cent) of residents living in low-income households.

Yan’s study, in addition confirming there are genuinely low-income city neighbourhoods, also added evidence to rising worries about Lower Mainland households that appear to under-report income.

“It’s a total mind-spin,” Yan said. “In Richmond, it seems to be a special concern,” he said, explaining how residents of the municipality, who are 50 per cent ethnic Chinese, are concerned many households may be under-reporting incomes to avoid taxes.

In a large swath of northwest Richmond, centred around Westminster Highway and Gilpin Road, which is replete with new high-end condos, 33 to 50 per cent of residents report living in low-income households. The Canadian average is 14 per cent.

Yan said his study revealed parts of West Vancouver and the west side of Vancouver are also sharp anomalies, with 25 to 33 per cent of individuals in households declaring poverty-like incomes, despite the stratospheric housing prices in those areas.

Yan’s study echoes two reports by veteran real-estate researcher Richard Wozny and UBC geographer Dan Hiebert, which show that residents of core Metro municipalities, where housing is extremely expensive, are often paying less taxes than people in the suburbs, where real-estate values are more modest.

In light of the study by Yan and others, three major factors appear to be contributing to why Metro Vancouver outstripped other major Canadian cities in having the most low-income households.

One factor is the region’s unusually large cohort of poor and working poor, a result in part of tepid wages compared to other Canadian cities.

A second cause relates to neighbourhoods with high-end housing in which some families appear to not be declaring their full worldwide incomes.

A third reason came to light this week, when immigration lawyer Richard Kurland released a Statistics Canada report showing contrasting financial outcomes among foreign-born residents — who make up 45 per cent of Metro’s population.

The report by Garnett Picot and Yuqian Lu showed that immigrants from Asia, who are predominant in Metro, are much more likely to report “chronic low incomes” than the Canadian-born and immigrants from elsewhere.

The disparity was most pronounced among immigrant seniors, who were 15 times more likely than Canadian-born seniors to declare poverty-like conditions.

After Yan pored over the results of his study, he was not surprised to see that more than half the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are on low incomes. It is a struggling zone notorious for high rages of drug addiction and mental illness. It is the most extreme example of several low-income zones dotted through Metro, where old rental apartments are the norm.

The unsettling neighbourhoods to Yan, and others, are those dominated by costly houses and highrise condos, but have 25 to 50 per of households claiming low incomes.

In addition to northwest Richmond, such tony neighbourhoods include Ambleside, Sentinel Hill and Cedar Dale in West Vancouver, and Kerrisdale, Arbutus Ridge and Oakridge on the west side of Vancouver.

Detached homes in these neighbourhoods typically sell for $2 million to $6 million, with condos going for $500,000 to $1.3 million.

“It used to be that income was a driver of real-estate values,” said Yan.

But a phenomenon is occurring in which the riches of many rely on heavy borrowing and are buried in assets such as real estate that are not taxed like income. Yan said President Donald Trump, an international real-estate mogul, is a prime example.

Although Yan said “under-reporting of income is hard to measure,” the fact many Metro neighbourhoods with expensive housing are reporting low incomes may relate to “the perils of wealth-based immigration.”

Immigration lawyers and scholars concur. They emphasize it is too easy for many trans-nationals to buy stylish condos or mansions in Metro Vancouver and Toronto, often in the names of their spouses or children, while reporting tiny or non-existent global incomes to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Yan was heartened by Chinese-speaking callers’ reactions to his report on income and housing disparity.

“Many Chinese people are aware of how income inequity has shown up in China through 3,000 years of history. They understand the instability that goes with it,” he said.

“Some Chinese people are not doing that well in Metro Vancouver. And many are concerned about having a real community. So they want to see fairness.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese irked by inequality, tax avoidance | Vancouver Sun

Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income

Another good piece on Vancouver’s housing prices and the underpaying of tax:

After census figures this week revealed alarming gaps between housing costs and average incomes in Metro Vancouver, veteran real-estate analyst Richard Wozny is preparing a speech for B.C. politicians that blames the disparity is in part on tax avoidance.

A reason why residents of Metro Vancouver municipalities with expensive housing tend to report lower incomes than people in less-costly municipalities is that many of the former avoid declaring their total wealth, said Wozny, whose company has produced 1,200 studies on real-estate trends in Canada and the U.S.

“Canada has become a freeloader society” in which some mansion owners have found ways to avoid reporting their total incomes to the Canada Revenue Agency, said Wozny, who will speak on Sept. 25 at the convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in Vancouver.

Census figures released this week show Metro Vancouver, which has one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, lags behind 14 other Canadian cities on average wages.

The census also exposed an apparent contradiction: Residents of Richmond, Burnaby, the city of Vancouver and West Vancouver — which have the most expensive housing costs in Metro — also have on average the highest rates of poverty.

The census data highlights “inappropriate reporting of family incomes” by many property owners in Metro Vancouver’s well-off neighbourhoods, says Wozny, head of Site Economics Ltd., who said governments need to crack down on residential property speculators.

Inadequate Canadian tax laws have allowed owners of houses that sell for more than $2 million or $3 million “to report unusually low taxable median family incomes,” Wozny said in a detailed report titled Low Incomes and High House Prices in Metro Vancouver.

“It is not logical that so many low-income residents buy expensive houses. The analogous situation would be people reporting minimum wage routinely buying Rolex watches and luxury limousines,” Wozny said.

It’s also not fair, Wozny said, that the burden of paying for Metro Vancouver’s transit systems and schools is largely borne by residents of the suburbs, such as Port Moody, where house prices are only average, yet residents have the highest taxable incomes in Metro Vancouver.

“Irrationally high-priced real estate is not harmless,” Wozny said. “There are plenty of victims, from the environment to the middle class. Simply stated, Metro Vancouver is worth more than it charges in property taxes and fees.”

When Wozny speaks to politicians at the UBCM, he will urge better regulations to target real-estate speculators, both domestic and offshore, many of whom shield their wealth from Canada’s tax officials.

“The Americans would never tolerate such free riders. Canada has become a money-launderer’s paradise,” Wozny said in an interview.

“Seattle’s incomes are far higher than those in Metro Vancouver, and its economy is many times larger, yet its housing prices are far lower than they are in Metro Vancouver. The difference is that Seattle is governed by laws that tax worldwide incomes, and which don’t allow un-monitored capital flows.”

Wozny disagrees with real-estate lobbyists who attempt to explain the radical gap between housing prices and wages by saying many mansion owners in Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver are seniors getting by on low incomes.

That rationalization doesn’t make sense, Wozny said, because most neighbourhoods in North America have similar levels of what he called “old Mrs. MacKenzie who has lived in her house since the Second World War. There are old Mrs. MacKenzies in every city.”

Wozny’s analysis also doesn’t support remarks made Wednesday by economist Iglika Ivanova of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who speculated the reason municipalities with soaring housing prices also have unusually high percentages of people living below the poverty line ­is the latter want to live near transit lines.

Instead, Wozny’s report supports former Richmond mayor Greg Halsey-Brandt, who was the first to publicly flag how some of his city’s pricier neighbourhoods had almost as many people reporting poverty-level incomes as in Vancouver’s destitute Downtown Eastside.

University of B.C. geographer Dan Hiebert has also discovered a correlation between neighbourhoods with largw foreign-born populations and neighbourhoods that appear to have unusually low taxable incomes, despite their inflated housing prices, such as Richmond and Vancouver’s west side.

Wozny, a real-estate business insider, appreciates the analyses of immigration lawyers Sam Hyman and Richard Kurland, and SFU professor Josh Gordon, who have pointed to loopholes in tax and real-estate laws.

They say unenforced laws allow wealthy speculators to avoid taxes by using trusts or companies to purchase real estate, by falsely claiming they are not “residents of Canada” for tax purposes and by buying residential property in the name of “proxies,” such as low-income spouses or children.

Even though Wozny considers himself a fiscal conservative, he said B.C. and Canada desperately need tax-code updates so that investors who buy multiple residential proprieties contribute more to their communities.

“The public has been cynically abandoned by governments. Real-estate is an essential building block of the middle classes,” Wozny said. But hard-working people are being squeezed out of ownership, he said, by speculators who put too much demand on Metro’s real-estate market and who aren’t carrying their social weight.

“Everybody should be paying taxes,” Wozny said. “Taxes should be a privilege. We should enjoy paying them.”

Source: Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income | Vancouver Sun

The real housing boom: The suburbs are where we want to be – Yakabuski

Not just want: affordability. Yakabuski on the demographic trends towards the suburbs, particularly the 905 and BC’s Lower Mainland:

The raw numbers are even more revealing. More than two-thirds of Canadians already live in some form of suburb, according to research by Queen’s University’s David Gordon, who divides Canada’s urban population between those who live in the “active core” of cities, in “transit suburbs” with ready access to public transport, and in the “auto suburbs” where the car rules.

Between 2006 and 2011, the active cores added 89,000 souls; the transit suburbs grew by 70,000. The auto suburbs added 1.3 million people, with 380,000 more in suburban Toronto alone. “We’re a suburban nation,” says Prof. Gordon. “That trend is not soon going to change.”

Luckily, Canada has not seen the kind of “sorting” of its population that has made the political divide between U.S. suburbs (largely white, middle-class and Republican) and inner cities (ethnically and socio-economically diverse and overwhelmingly Democratic) so unbridgeable. In Canada, it’s in the suburbs where elections are the most competitive.

The reason, Prof. Gordon notes, is that our suburbs are far more diverse.

Though we have “ethnic enclaves” such as Brampton, Ont., and Surrey, B.C., they are neither exclusive nor cut off from the surrounding community or society. This helps explains why suburban politics is so fluid here.

“There’s hope in Canada; we’re not as dug in as the Americans on the blue-red thing,” Prof. Gordon says. “It’s possible for any centrist politician to craft a platform to win in the suburbs.”

Source: The real housing boom: The suburbs are where we want to be – The Globe and Mail