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: Female foreign students endure harassment, exploitation

Of note:

Female foreign students from South Asia are experiencing sexual harassment by landlords, exploitation by bosses, and ethno-cultural double-standards, all the while dealing with their own fears of being deported.

Metro Vancouver community workers are warning about the particular vulnerability of the increasing number of young women coming to Canada from the Punjab region of India and other parts of South Asia, whose often-modest families have sold off much of their property and assets to get them to Canada.

Stories are emerging that some female international students — desperate to make enough money to avoid returning to their homelands — are resorting to offering sexual services to landlords and are even getting involved in the drug trade, says Kal Dosanjh, a police officer who runs a Surrey-based support program called Kids Play.

The young women are frightened, especially when exploitative employers in the underground economy, including at some restaurants, threaten to report them to immigration officials and have them deported, said Dosanjh.

“When these kids, who don’t know the law, hear about deportation, they get scared, because they’ve already spent so much money coming to Canada, and so much money surviving here, that the last thing they need is to be sent back to their country,” Dosanjh said.

There are more than 500,000 foreign students in Canada. After a jump of almost 50,000 additional students from India in 2017, one quarter of Canada’s international students now come from there.

“It’s a source of shame if they get sent home. They fear they’ll never get the chance to come back to Canada,” said Dosanjh, who also works with male foreign students whom he says tend to get exploited by under-paying construction companies or become low-level participants in the drug trade to pay high student fees and rents.

Being able to fly into Canada on a student visa is seen as the “ticket out of India, out of poverty” for many students, said Dosanjh. “For them to be able to stay here means everything in terms of future job prospects, monetary wealth, sanitary conditions, a significant change in lifestyle.” Many will put up with a lot of hardship to avoid going home.

MOSAIC, a large B.C. settlement service for migrants, this year began training teachers and other education officials about what they could do to support women among Metro Vancouver’s 110,000 foreign students, who the agency maintains are generally “more likely to be sexually assaulted and less likely to be helped” than native-born students.

“New research confirms that international students reported more sexual assault than domestic students and experience more intense fear, helplessness and horror after victimization,” says a statement from MOSAIC, whose 350 staff members are led by CEO Olga Stachova.

“Some perpetrators of sexual violence see international students as easy targets — too ashamed to report sexual assaults, unaware of where they can get help and influenced by different cultural norms.”

MOSAIC highlighted the case of Maham Kamal Khanum, an international student from Pakistan at UBC, who said sexual violence against women is “normalized” in her home country. “It was almost a culture shock to learn how unacceptable sexual violence was here,” Khanum said.

Dupinder Kaur Saran, Kal Dosanjh, Kiran Toor. Saran and Toor are volunteers with Kids Play, which helps youth in Surrey who are getting into trouble. Kal Dosanjh is a police officer and head of the non-profit group.

Many international students “don’t have a place to belong” when they come to Canada, says Kiran Toor, who, along with Dupinder Saran, has volunteered to work with international students through Kids Play, a large Surrey-based non-profit organization devoted to supporting young people, particularly South Asians.

Many foreign students are under a great deal of financial, social and academic pressure, including to learn English.

A recent article in Desi Today, an Indo-Canadian magazine in B.C., said it’s common for male and female foreign students to work more than the 20 hours a week permitted under a Canadian study visa.

The magazine quoted South Asian community workers who know of intimidated young women being sexually harassed in the workplace by employers, because they have worked many hours over their allowed limit and don’t want to be reported to border officials.

The young women especially feel shame about admitting to something that might hurt their reputations.

In 2017 there was a sudden jump of 48,000 more students from India. (Source: Canadian Bureau for International Education)

While Dosanjh said many female students from India are “liberal, open-minded and sophisticated,” Desi Today quoted community officials who said some traditional Indo-Canadians are “talking bad about the girl students from India.” Some Indo-Canadians don’t like that the young women are often see in public with males. Most officials cited in Desi Today did not respond to The Vancouver Sun’s messages.

At the worst, Dosanjh said, some Indian foreign students who are desperate for cash are getting involved in prostitution and the drug trade. The young men, says the longtime Vancouver police officer, are generally serving as “mules” and the women are agreeing to hold drugs for their male friends.

The effort to help schools provide more support to female foreign students who arrive in Canada without support networks is hampered, MOSAIC’s Stachova said, by the under-reporting of difficult incidents. “The students always think they have the worry: What will happen to my status in Canada?”

Even though the problem of exploitation of female foreign students is real in Metro Vancouver, Stachova said it has to be put into perspective. “I don’t want to sound alarmist,” Stachova said, “because we are generally a safe country.”

Still, the stakes are exceedingly high for the students.

As Dosanjh says, many families in India, particularly in the Punjab, see Canada as a kind of heaven on earth. “So the young people think of it is a land of rich amenities, where they can have a better life, become permanent residents and eventually sponsor their family to come over. That means that once these students come here the last thing most of them want to do is return to India.”

All of which make them more susceptible than most to exploitation.

foreign students from South Asia are experiencing sexual harassment by landlords, exploitation by bosses, and ethno-cultural double-standards, all the while dealing with their own fears of being deported. Metro Vancouver community workers are warning about the particular vulnerability of the increasing number of young women coming to Canada from the Punjab region of India and other parts of South Asia, whose often-modest families have sold off much of their property and assets to get them to Canada.

Source: Douglas Todd: Female foreign students endure harassment, exploitation

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

Richmond Hospital is ground zero for the skyrocketing number of ‘anchor babies’ born in Canada, study indicates

Good report from the Vancouver Star:

More than one in five babies born in Metro Vancouver’s Richmond Hospital could be so-called “anchor babies” — children born to non-residents in order to gain Canadian citizenship — according to a new study.

The study, authored by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) and published Thursday in Policy Options magazine, suggests 21.9 per cent of the children delivered in Richmond Hospital are born to non-resident mothers — more than double the percentage born in any other Canadian hospital.

The IRPP study also shows the number of such children born in Canada is far higher than previously estimated.

While a Statistics Canada report found roughly 312 babies are born in the country each year to mothers whose place of residence is officially listed as outside of Canada, IRPP’s study put that number at closer to 1,500 or 2,000 children annually. The data shows the number of births to non-resident mothers — including all provinces but Quebec, which refused to release the data — skyrocketed to 3,628 last year from just 1,354 in 2010.

The issue of birth tourism — when pregnant women fly to Canada to give birth — is divisive because children born under such circumstances are automatically granted Canadian citizenship. They therefore enjoy all the attendant rights and privileges, such as access to domestic university fees as well as subsidized education and health care, even though their parents aren’t taxpayers and the children themselves will not necessarily be raised in Canada.

Joe Peschisolido, Liberal MP for Steveston-Richmond East, believes the revelation provided by the study has some troubling implications.

“Even though I believe the (birth tourism) epicentre is in Richmond — and at the hospital in Richmond — I think you’re starting to see birth tourism as an institution,” Peschisolido told StarMetro in a Thursday phone interview.

“There are individuals that are profiting from this. And I think that’s the most heinous thing. You’re getting individuals that are abusing … the immigration and citizenship system … and are profiting off of an illegitimate — and the government has said unethical — system.”

A Thursday statement from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) confirmed the numbers in the IRPP study, though slightly more children were actually born to non-resident mothers in Richmond Hospital than the IRPP study accounted for.

While the IRPP study showed 469 non-resident births occurred in Richmond Hospital in 2017-18, VCH’s figures show 474 children were born to 469 resident mothers. The disparity, the statement explained, comes from the number of twins born in that time period.

And while the number of babies born to non-resident mothers has been increasing over the past several years — from 15.4 per cent of the total in 2014-15 to 22.1 per cent of the total in 2017-18 — the total number of babies born to all mothers decreased slightly this year, according to VCH.

The health authority also noted that non-residents are required to pay all hospital and medical-care costs for the mother and baby, including a prepayment deposit of $8,200 for a vaginal birth and $13,300 for a caesarean birth.

In March, Peschisolido sponsored a petition spearheaded by Richmond resident Kerry Starchuk calling on the federal government to condemn the “abusive and exploitative practice” of birth tourism.

Birth tourism, the petition said, fundamentally debases the value of Canadian citizenship; costs taxpayers money, since children of non-residents have access to services such as health care and subsidized education; and displaces residents from local hospital beds.

On Monday, the federal government tabled its response to Peschisolido’s petition, saying Canada does not currently collect information on whether a woman is pregnant when she enters Canada.

“A person is not inadmissible nor can they be denied a visa solely on the grounds that they are pregnant or that they may give birth in Canada,” the response reads.

And while misrepresenting the purpose of a visit to Canada to a federal officer carries “significant consequences,” the statement points out citizenship acquired through birth on Canadian soil has been policy since 1947.

Ottawa’s response, however, refers back to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, saying only about 300 of the 385,000 children born in Canada each year are born to non-resident mothers.

“This constitutes less than 0.1 per cent of the total number of births in Canada,” the response says, adding these numbers show the practice is not widespread but that the government has nevertheless commissioned research from the Canadian Institute for Health Information to look into the issue. It also committed to developing measures to address the institute’s findings.

Peschisolido said he was satisfied with the response. He said he hopes to participate in the review process once more granular data has been collected and responsible decisions can be made about the extent of birth tourism and what can be done to stop it.

But Will Tao, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, said he worries that focusing purely on statistics risks unnecessarily casting aspersions on all non-resident mothers.

“I don’t think (birth tourism) is the problem itself, so much as a symptom of the problem,” Tao told StarMetro. “I think the real problem is the unregulated nature of immigration advice.”

There are most certainly practitioners abroad who advise mothers to come to Canada to give birth as a kind of backdoor to citizenship, he said. And the federal government could do a better job providing a narrative — much in the way it has for individuals seeking refugee status — that would discourage abuses of the birthright policy, he said.

But there are countless non-residents who have children while in Canada for many other reasons. Those people, he said, should not be painted with the same brush as those who wilfully exploit the path to Canadian citizenship.

The IRPP study reflects that concern, noting its figures are not exact because they don’t express how many children were delivered by mothers with temporary status in Canada — a bracket that includes Canadian expatriates returning to give birth, corporate transferees and international students.

But researcher Andrew Griffith told The Star that a conservative estimate would suggest roughly 40 or 50 per cent of the non-resident mothers were birth tourists.

The study mined the Canadian Institute for Health Information discharge database, and according to Griffith, the IRPP’s figures — based on hospital financial data that codes services provided to non-residents under “other country resident self-pay” — more accurately reflect the number of non-resident births in Canada.

The IRPP study offered several options to address the problem of birth tourism, including:

  • Amending immigration laws to make it an offence if a woman fails to disclose the delivery of a child as the purpose of a visit to Canada and make that child’s citizenship fraudulent due to its procurement through misrepresentation
  • Adopting a “qualified” birthright approach by which a child is granted citizenship only when at least one parent is either a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and the child resides in Canada for at least 10 years after birth

Tao, the immigration lawyer, said he understood why people are shocked by how far above the national average the number of children born to non-resident mothers in Richmond Hospital are.

But through his interactions with clients, he said, he has encountered many families who could technically be called “birth tourists,” were that definition applied loosely enough. He said he was concerned that forthcoming regulations could encompass non-resident families or individuals whose children were born in Canada for legitimate reasons.

Tao also suggested a policy requiring immigration officials to question the motives of pregnant women as a matter of course could be “a very slippery slope into prejudice and background checking of other types.”

Griffiths, the researcher, agreed that birth tourism at the national level, currently accounting for roughly 0.5 per cent of the total annual live births in Canada according to the IRPP, is not a huge problem but suggested it should be monitored closely.

“Using this as a starting point, if we see any further increase or a trend line, then we need to take another fresh look at it,” he said.

But Peschisolido said that in a city like Richmond, where birth tourism appears to be a far more pervasive trend, every level of government has a responsibility to investigate how it can be slowed or stopped and what, exactly, may be driving it.

Source: Richmond Hospital is ground zero for the skyrocketing number of ‘anchor babies’ born in Canada, study indicates

Douglas Todd: British Columbians’ houses are not really their ‘castles’

Immigration-related excerpt of interest. And a new term for me, “satellite families:”

….However, if Kesselman was in power, he would consider a change to the NDP’s proposed speculation tax, which in part targets “satellite families” that own vacant dwellings in B.C.

Satellite families are those that typically maintain student children or spouses in B.C., but in which the breadwinners make most or all of their income outside the country, which means the family usually pays little or no Canadian income tax (which is designed to support the common good).

While understanding the B.C. government’s rationale for targeting satellite families, since some “own high-valued homes in B.C. while declaring little income for tax purposes,” Kesselman recognizes the surcharge will also affect some B.C. second-dwelling owners who have long paid taxes in the province.

“My first change would be to allow B.C. residents a credit of actual income taxes paid in B.C. against the speculation tax, rather than the $2,000 per year credit. And I might extend this option to taxes paid by other Canadians not resident in B.C.,” Kesselman said.

In the same vein, the public policy specialist finds the NDP’s surtax on homes valued over $3 million to be an “imperfect but justifiable measure, given the obstacles to implementing a better approach.”

Even though he believes it may be fairer to impose some kind of capital gains tax on profits made on B.C. homes, Kesselman admitted it would be a “political non-starter.” The surtax on expensive homes is “somewhat arbitrary,” he said, because it hits the homeowners regardless of their level of capital gain, how long they’ve owned the property, their current cash flow and their mortgage debt.

But at least the expensive-house surcharge captures often large and otherwise tax-free profits, Kesselman said, in effect supporting Arthur Pigou and the ethical notion that housing, indeed, needs to be treated as a public good.

“The surtax should also encourage some larger properties to be re-developed into denser housing, which is needed to address affordability,” Kesselman added, strengthening the case for Pigou’s principle. “An additional benefit of the surtax is to discourage foreign buyers from using high-valued B.C. homes as speculative piggybanks, in some instances using illicit funds.”

Source: Douglas Todd: British Columbians’ houses are not really their ‘castles’

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

Douglas Todd: Canadian sovereignty faces challenge over foreign-buyers tax

Todd on the British Columbia foreign buyer tax:

Canadian sovereignty is on trial in a lawsuit against B.C.’s 20-per cent tax on foreign buyers of residential homes.

Jing Li — a Chinese citizen and international student who launched her case after using her family’s money to buy a townhouse in Langley in 2016 — is in effect challenging what some believe is Canada’s sovereign right to impose a targeted tax on foreign nationals, a B.C. surtax that is similar to many in other provinces and countries.

Arguing the tax illegally discriminates against people on the basis of their national origin, Li maintains in her claim it makes her feel “I am not wanted in Canada. … I feel that this anger has been directed toward people like me and other Asian nationals, due to unfair biases and stereotypes which the tax has further reinforced.”

In this era of globalization and free trade, in which trans-national corporations and libertarians often call for “open borders,” it is not fashionable to stand up for national sovereignty. Cultural liberals and even business leaders often characterize the concept as thinly disguised racism.

But some Canadians maintain it is ethical to discriminate against people who are not citizens or permanent residents (that is people who Canada have formally allowed to begin the immigration process). UBC law professor Joel Bakan, creator of the documentary The Corporation, says “in the past 30 years of economic globalization there has been an attack on the idea of the nation state.” But the sovereign nation, he says, remains the key structure through which a people can create a democratic community.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge will hear Li’s lawsuit in open court beginning June 25. In the meantime UBC professors Nathanael Lauster and Henry Yu are among those providing affidavits on behalf of Li, whose lawyer is Luciana Brasil, a specialist in class-action suits.

The B.C. government, in response to being sued, has obtained affidavits from, among others, UBC geography professor David Ley and SFU’s Andy Yan.

Should foreign nationals have the same rights and privileges as Canadian citizens and permanent residents, especially in regards to property?

In support of Li’s lawsuit against the B.C. government, Lauster claims the foreign-buyers tax reflects the kind of anti-Chinese sentiment that has become a “moral panic,” leading to “blaming the foreigner.”

British Columbians have scapegoated Chinese buyers, Lauster says. “There are clear indications that the inception and implementation of the foreign-buyer tax has reflected and invoked xenophobic, racist and specifically Sinophobic tendencies and sentiments.”

Lauster, an American who writes about his process of immigrating to Canada, maintains foreign students, temporary workers and other non-permanent residents are unfairly impeded by the foreign-buyers tax, particularly because many eventually apply to become immigrants.

The foreign-buyers tax has evoked a “Yellow Peril” discourse, Lauster says, with modern-day “folk devils.” The “social epidemic” manifests itself in anonymous comments about media articles and on Twitter. “Chinese immigrants and home buyers have been the primary targets of rhetoric. A variety of historically rooted stereotypes and biases have been perpetuated targeting Chinese home buyers and immigrants.”

For some reason the affidavit of Henry Yu, a UBC historian who specializes in documenting discrimination against ethnic Chinese, is not available to the public. Li’s lawyer did not reply to questions about it. Judging from the responses to Yu’s affidavit, however, it is similar to Lauster’s in arguing the tax demonstrates Canadians’ racism.

Andy Yan, who heads SFU’s City Program, counters in his affidavit that Yu and Lauster ignore “the globalization and hyper-commodification of housing,” which has hammered cities such as London, New York and Sydney and led to, for instance, 23 per cent of Coquitlam’s new condos being bought by foreign nationals.

Yan maintains Yu and Lauster are also blind to the “agency” of minority groups in B.C., where Chinese-Canadians have been leading activists supporting the tax on foreign buyers. There are now 470,000 ethnic Chinese in Metro Vancouver. Asians make up two of three immigrants to Canada.

An Angus Reid poll found 89 per cent of the city’s ethnic Chinese support the foreign-buyers tax. Even the then-Chinese consul general in Vancouver, Liu Fei, said, “The Chinese government would have no hesitation in stepping in and regulating (house) price increases like this, unlike governments here.”

Indeed, China has a range of restrictions on foreign buyers. And Yan’s affidavit makes it clear that jurisdictions throughout the world limit the purchasing power of foreign nationals. Yan says Yu and Lauster should not have ignored curbs on foreign buyers in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain, Australia and the U.S. He could have added Denmark, Mexico, France, Switzerland and others.

In his affidavit, David Ley, author of Millionaire Migrants, says a key tactic of pro-growth real-estate advocates has been to claim that opponents of rapid expansion are xenophobic.

Developers first began playing the racism card in Vancouver and Los Angeles in the 1990s, Ley says. He notes Bob Rennie, a famed condo marketer and former chief of fundraising for the B.C. Liberal party, has alleged racism is “a huge undercurrent” in the housing debate.

Ley accepts Lauster and Yu’s analyses of B.C.’s discriminatory history up to the repeal of the immigration act in 1947. But he laments neither acknowledge how attitudes have changed. “Unlike in the colonial period, there is no ethno-racial divide that neatly separates, homogenizes and penalizes people of East Asian origin,” Ley says.

“There is significant resistance within Vancouver’s Chinese‐Canadian community to inflationary pressures in the property market primed by foreign capital, dispelling innuendoes that such resistance is inherited from old racist attitudes held by white Canadians.”

We will find out later this month where this case goes. If the judge declares the foreign-buyers tax is illegal, a massive class-action suit is sure to follow. Li’s lawyer did not reply to questions about who has so far been paying for the lawsuit’s substantial costs.

Meanwhile, those of us who continue to value national sovereignty will think of people like Bakan. Even though the liberal-left is often distracted by identity politics related to ethnicity, Bakan says the nation-state remains the key structure to protect the common good of passport holders and permanent residents.

Defenders of sovereignty may also consider Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, who says globalization will only benefit most members of a nation if it puts strong social-protection measures in place. That includes rules to protect Canadians from out-of-control housing costs.

Source: Douglas Todd: Canadian sovereignty faces challenge over foreign-buyers tax

Gary Mason provides an effective riposte to those house-rich opposing the tax:

…But, hey, let’s not worry about them. They’ll figure it out, I’m sure. Let’s turn our attention to the homeowners in Vancouver whose $3-million-plus abodes face a minor tax hike. Although they can defer it until after they sell, many don’t want to. So, let’s everyone get together and figure out how we can help these poor, poor multimillionaires.

Source: Opinion What about the poor multimillionaire homeowners?

 

Poll shows Vancouverites mixed on giving vote to ‘permanent residents’

Interesting divergence. The other interesting aspect is that giving the right to vote to PRs as proposed has no minimum residency period (the administrative complexity of implementation would not be simple). (Note: the residency requirement is three years out of five, not two, as reported in the article).

I suspect that most recent Permanent Residents have more immediate needs than municipal voting rights that may explain the difference.

A majority of the residents polled in the cosmopolitan City of Vancouver appear to support giving permanent residents the right to vote in a civic election — but many immigrants are not so sure.

A new opinion poll conducted by Research Co. found 57 per cent of those questioned in the City of Vancouver either “strongly” or “moderately” favour giving the city’s permanent residents the right to vote in a municipal election.

The Canadian government defines a permanent resident as “someone who has been given permanent resident status by immigrating to Canada, but is not a Canadian citizen. Permanent residents are citizens of other countries.”

In a city of 630,000 that has one of the highest portions of foreign-born residents in the world, a sample of Vancouver’s 262,000 immigrants found only 48 per cent ready to give permanent residents the vote in October’s municipal election.

“The level of support for the change is higher among Vancouverites who were born in Canada than among those who acquired citizenship after immigrating from another country,” said Mario Canseco, the president of Research Co.

The company conducted the survey in response to Vancouver City council passing an early April motion by Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer, seconded by Mayor Gregor Robertson, calling on the B.C. government to “make the necessary changes” to make it the first city in Canada to allow permanent residents to vote.

The Research Co. poll revealed partisan political fault lines over whether roughly 60,000 permanent residents of the city should be able to vote. People who voted for the Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral candidate in 2014, Kirk LaPointe, were 14 percentage points less likely than those who backed Robertson to want to make it possible.

While Canseco found a slim majority of Vancouverites think it makes sense to give the vote to permanent residents “who may contribute to the city by working, living and paying taxes,” he determined the strongest pockets of support were among residents aged 18 to 34 (68 per cent), those who live in the East Side of Vancouver (62 per cent), women (58 per cent) and people of East Asian origin (60 per cent).

On the other hand, the Research Co. survey revealed 49 per cent of City of Vancouver residents expressed concern that allowing permanent residents to vote “sets a dangerous precedent, as foreigners who have not sworn allegiance to Canada would have a say in the formation of governments.”

The issue of civic voting rights arises against the backdrop of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals raising immigration levels and last October bringing in Bill C-6, which makes it easier for permanent residents to become citizens. They now need to spend only two years out of five physically present in Canada before being eligible for citizenship (compared to the previous requirement of four years out of six).

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussein also made it possible last year for permanent residents to spend a portion of the two years they are supposed to be physically present in Canada in a foreign land — either for work, to attend school or for family reasons.

Even though it is rare around the world for non-citizens to vote for any elected representatives, some of those who maintain it is a good thing argue that, since many non-permanent residents pay taxes, they have a right to determine how taxes are spent.

Proponents also say it’s better to offer the vote at a municipal level, since local politicians have no control over issues of national security and foreign policy.

On the other hand, the few dozen countries around the world that welcome immigrants normally require newcomers to prove in multiple ways they have a “meaningful connection” to their new homeland before granting the privilege to vote.

Since permanent residents in Canada are already free to engage in political activity, opponents of giving them a civic vote argue it’s relatively quick to become a citizen and people should wait for the privilege while learning an official language and the political complexities of their potential new homeland.

The 2016 Census shows the City of Vancouver contains 325,000 people who are non-immigrants and 262,000 “immigrants” (which includes those who are permanent residents).

Fifty-two per cent of the residents of the City of Vancouver are people of colour, (including 167,000 ethnic Chinese, 37,000 South Asians and 36,000 Filipinos). People of  European descent total 297,000 and Aboriginals 14,000.

According to the 2016 Census seven per cent of the residents of the city speak neither English nor French.

The Research Co. poll surveyed 400 adults in the City of Vancouver and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Source: Poll shows Vancouverites mixed on giving vote to ‘permanent residents’

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