'Sea change': Vancouver considers 'restricting property ownership by non-permanent residents'
The idea is one of a number of "tax and financial regulations to limit the commodification of housing and land for speculative investment" proposed in Vancouver's 10-year housing strategy.
Two years ago Andy Yan’s academic work placed him in the centre of a storm. But he decided to carry on with his work, and, he recalled this week, “double down.”
When Yan, an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects, reported in November 2015 that he’d found two-thirds of house buyers in expensive west-side Vancouver neighbourhoods had “non-Anglicized Chinese names,” he wanted to use the names to show, in the absence of more precise data, there appeared to be a lot of money flooding from overseas into Vancouver real estate.
Instead, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported in November 2015: “For his troubles, Yan has been caught in a storm this week over whether or not his use of such a proxy was racist.”
“He rejects his critics with some heat,” the Morning Post reported at the time, quoting Yan saying: “‘My great-granddad paid the head tax … So to somehow use ‘racism’ to protect your privilege. That’s just absurd. This is an almost-uniquely Vancouver reaction.’”
In a public post on his Facebook page, widely reported in the media at the time, Robertson wrote: “We don’t need … the blaming of any one group of people — or any one kind of last name — for the challenge of housing affordability.”
At the time, the idea that foreign investment could have an adverse effect on Vancouver’s housing affordability was considered by some in the political establishment and real estate industry as “heretical,” Yan said Friday.
Now, the City of Vancouver wants to collaborate with the provincial and federal governments to explore the viability of “restricting property ownership by non-permanent residents.”
That line appears in Vancouver’s 10-year housing strategy released Thursday, a comprehensive plan seeking to address all elements of the city’s housing crisis.
Upon learning the city’s new housing strategy proposes looking at restricting foreign ownership, Yan told Postmedia: “It’s interesting … It’s the admission that you have a problem. As with many things in life, that’s the first step.”
“This does mark a bit of a sea change,” said Yan, now the director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. “From the accusations that observers and critics are racists, to the realization that Vancouver does indeed sit in this global marketplace for residential real estate, through which local incomes can’t compete.”
The idea to investigate foreign ownership restrictions is one of a number of “tax and financial regulations to limit the commodification of housing and land for speculative investment” proposed in the city’s report, along with ideas like introducing a speculation and flipping tax, reforming federal and provincial tax regulations and seeking to “close loopholes.”
These proposals are designated as “high” priority in the city report, to be addressed in the first year of the 10-year plan.
Dan Garrison, Vancouver’s assistant director of housing policy, said Friday: “Our thinking on that has evolved in the last number of years … Whether it’s foreign ownership or investment from other sources, certainly that piece around investment driving housing costs is something that’s really ramped up in the public mind in the last couple of years.”
The city report raises the idea of investigating the examples of Australia and New Zealand, two countries where foreign ownership has been a red-button issue, that have both taken steps to limit foreign ownership.
B.C. Finance Minister Carole James is “reviewing the tax system and evaluating existing and proposed housing tax measures,” including the role of speculation in B.C.’s housing market, as part of the planning for the 2018 budget, James said Friday in an emailed statement.
“However,” James said, “a ban on foreign ownership of homes is not being considered as part of Budget 2018 planning. British Columbians are proud to welcome thousands of newcomers each year who help strengthen our province.”
Author: DAN FUMANO