China and Vancouver home prices

Foreign buyers have invested in Vancouver for generations. Why does it suddenly matter more now?

The topic of foreign ownership of housing in Vancouver is a subject that triggers some emotional responses. Over an Easter dinner some west side relatives of mine lamented the end of neighbourhoods built upon the strength of front yard conversations and local gossip, now made more difficult on their street by language and cultural barriers. People today, I was told, just drive into their garage with the remote control entry and never have to set foot on their street. This phenomenon of households being isolated from their surrounding communities is not unique to west side homes, but is happening throughout our region.

A "letter of the week" in Friday's Vancouver Courier fingered "Chinese investor class citizens" for snapping up older homes, tearing them down, building much larger homes and not occupying them:

Re: "Vancouver realtors cater to wealthy offshore Chinese as middle class gets squeezed,", April 3.

It's about time that this major problem be discussed. My husband and I are increasingly frustrated with what is going on in the city and although my husband has an excellent job in finance with a great salary we continue to rent little bungalows on the West Side that sell for ridiculous prices ($2 million or more) to Chinese investor class citizens.

We watch our previous rentals get torn down so that another huge empty house can take its place. It's heartbreaking and the fact that we have a daughter who is two years old makes the situation more frustrating because we can't provide a stable situation-a small house, near a good school in a safe neighbourhood. We watch as our trust-fund friends buy on the East Side paying crazy prices to live in houses that need a lot of work in less than perfect neighbourhoods.

We are on our own financially, so sadly Vancouver has become our enemy rather than our friend. Every day we discuss leaving. Our job search in other parts of the nation continues because we are getting the message loud and clear- Vancouver doesn't want us here.

Sad but true.

Rebecca Kovacs, Vancouver

While many of us can empathize with Ms. Kovacs' anxiety over the cost of housing, her cry for help from the government doesn't garner a lot of sympathy. She spurns East Vancouver as being beneath the standard for her family without really explaining how that part of the city lacks good schools or is too 'unsafe' for their comfort. The fact is many fine schools have plenty of space in them throughout the city, and our crime rate is the lowest it has been in a generation. And don't worry, we Eastsiders have grown a thick skin for these kinds of comments.

A preciously funny letter in response to Kovacs' rant perfectly summed up my own reaction. Louise Lee writes:

I'm proud to say I'm raising a family in one of those less-than-perfect neighbourhoods. The last time I looked out my window onto my less than perfect street, in my less than perfect neighbourhood, there weren't any bombs going off or army tanks driving down. What makes Ms. Kovacs think she is too good to live in what she describes is a less-than-perfect neighborhood? What an insult to all the hard-working, decent people of Vancouver who don't live on the West Side!

Read the rest of Lee's letter here.

Twenty years ago I rented a suite in a house in Kerrisdale. During the early 1990s change was also sweeping across the desirable west side thanks to an influx of Chinese buyers from Hong Kong. Back then Vancouver had been recently marketed to the world by EXPO 86, and Hong Kong residents who feared the potential consequences of 1997's transfer of sovereignty snapped up properties here. Home prices skyrocketed in Vancouver during those years too, and in percentage terms the increases were equal to if not higher than those we've seen lately.

So what happened? Prior to EXPO 86 Vancouver's west side was made up of families with European (by and large British or Scottish) heritage. But walk through the commercial district of Kerrisdale today and the mix is increasingly Asian. Chinese families who immigrated to Vancouver twenty years ago are now a part of the fabric of the community, and their kids have graduated from Magee, Point Grey, Lord Byng and Prince of Wales high schools. And so it will be twenty years hence with families arriving here now.

Yet there are many who continue to ring the alarm bells about Chinese investors. One of first commentators to openly suggest that governments should intervene was a former city councillor with the free enterprise NPA — Peter Ladner waxed in one of his columns that we need new regulations to limit buyers from China. Ladner used the example of a mining company CFO who "couldn’t afford to trade his house in an eastern city for a decent family house in Vancouver". While like Ladner I'd like to see talented business executives make Vancouver their home, what problem are we trying to solve in this instance? If you ask me either the mining company needs to pay their CFO more, or the CFO has to consider other housing options in his price range. No one in outside Vancouver should expect they'll get a one-to-one swap today for real estate in other parts of the country.

Another call for government regulation also comes from an unexpected source. Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk is an avowed conservative in all matters except, it seems, the rules regarding the ownership of real estate. He states in a recent column:

In B.C., Premier Christy Clark and her “Families First” Liberals could restrict foreign ownership. At city hall, Mayor Gregor Robertson could tax foreign real estate investors at business rates (18 per cent) not residential rates (4.2 per cent). It may not dramatically limit foreign investing but at least they’d pay more into municipal coffers.

The Surrey Leader newspaper also posted an editorial with its own "radical tax proposal" to offload Translink costs onto foreign owners:

So here’s one provocative proposal that might help put a dent in both problems: Double TransLink’s current residential property tax rates. But at the same time, create a homeowner grant that rebates 50 per cent of the TransLink tax.

Like the homeowner grant on municipal property tax, the TransLink version would exclude second vacation homes and disqualify owners who aren’t Canadian citizens or landed immigrants.

Most working folks would notice no difference. But the transportation authority would suck twice as much cash from foreign buyers, other non-resident owners and speculators.

Slapping higher levies on "foreigners" is not a new idea. Australia has been doing it for over two decades, but it hasn't improved affordability in Sydney by a long shot. The Aussie metropolis see-saws with Vancouver in terms of low affordability, casting doubt on this scheme.

So while we've got conservative thinkers pushing for more regulation, one of Vancouver's staunchest left wing commentators is advocating a more market-based approach. Allen Garr went on the attack against those whom he suggests have made the buyer from mainland China into Vancouver's real estate boogie man. His scathing column is titled "Blaming Chinese for high house prices in Vancouver is racist".

We have an unfortunate tendency to vilify someone or something when we have a problem and seek a simple solution. In this case, the problem is the extreme shortage of affordable housing

…you can set your hair on fire and blame Chinese foreigners. Then you can turn to the simple solutions that racists frequently come up with: quotas. I'm surprised we aren't hearing proposals to reintroduce the head tax.

And who do you decide to hang this fictional phenomenon on? Who better than your local politician. Reaching for another stereotype, you blame politicians who won't do anything about this because they are all corrupt. They need to line their political party's pockets with money from big real estate developers who are making a fortune selling houses to all those Chinese foreigners.

If you buy into this proposition, you shut down serious debate about the need to increase supply through densification and changes to zoning regulations, to say nothing of what kind of city we all want to live in. Together.

I admit that Garr's market mantra caught me completely off-guard. Next thing you know we'll see Allen walking down the street holding hands with his arch nemesis Sam Sullivan, another defender of market urbanism.

By quoting former planning director Larry Beasley that this talk about Chinese buyers is 'racist', Garr was arguably trying to provoke a reaction from readers. The Courier did get a full response from an aspiring city councillor named Sandy Garossino who has forged her political reputation around the Chinese real estate buyer issue. As an independent candidate during the 2011 civic campaign, Garossino took a page from her friend Ladner and frequently commented on how Chinese buyers were influencing the real estate market. Since the election she's been often quoted in the media for her opinions on foreign ownership. Having attached herself to such a politically divisive issue, it's understandable why Garossino wouldn't want to be branded as a bigot by Garr or anyone else.

Garossino's rebuttal to Garr is titled "Concern about foreign Chinese buyers in Vancouver based on facts". Her thesis points to several media articles "well sourced with rich information" which have been written on the topic of Chinese investment in Vancouver, and she backs that up with a few anecdotes from 'Canadian Chinese Vancouverites' who despair about the exodus of young talent from Vancouver. Young people fleeing Vancouver is one of the many arguments Garossino lately puts forward for more government intervention. While no one wants to see our youth leave the nest for other parts of Canada or beyond, it's hardly a new phenomenon. Kids here have always packed up for Toronto, L.A. or Hong Kong, usually after they've got their education. But Vancouver remains expensive because just as many youth come here too from points beyond.

A clever retort to this discomfiting debate about race and real estate comes from a friend of mine, Andy Yan of BTA Works, an urban design and research firm. Quoted by writer Luke Brocki, Yan says "the plural of anecdote is not data". In other words, let's stick to the facts, not just what people think is happening. Brocki's own research backs up what Garr says, that only about four per cent of housing purchased in Metro Vancouver is owned by offshore buyers. And the majority of foreign ownership in Vancouver real estate is from buyers in the USA, not China. I can't remember ever reading about the problem with Americans buying homes here, but the concerns about Chinese buyers seem endless.

When people get priced out of the market it's understandable when they seek someone to blame for it. Just as EXPO boosted Vancouver's image on the world stage decades ago, we're faced with the consequences our recent Olympic marketing campaign, combined with the lowest sustained interest rates in history. To make things more challenging Vancouver's population continues to grow by roughly 10,000 people per year. That translates into a need for about 4,000 new units of housing to be built per year just to keep up with demand. Vancouver currently permits just about half that amount of housing to be built. How many of us howl about building more housing in our city? Which one of us shake their fist at the Bank of Canada for that 4.1% five-year rate?

Vancouver's housing challenge is not only to build more places to live so that it may provide more affordable housing options. It may be that, as a young woman named Bonnie Wong commented on the Open File website, the longer term goal is to change the culture around real estate here:

Ooh, a sensitive subject [foreign ownership] and not to be taken lightly. I just moved to Vancouver from London, England, where there was a similar issue – foreign investors with significant amounts of money buying up property, propping up demand, and inflating values…I have this solution: instill a culture and behaviours that promote long-term use value in property rather than encourage price speculation or people generating financial wealth from property values rising. i.e. don't sell out. Start teaching a different sort of land economics in schools, university, and TV (enough of these property tycoon and property ladder type of TV programs). Put land back into common ownership (see Community Land Trusts or wider-scale, more mainstream applications of co-operative housing models).

I admit it's hard to imagine Vancouver without condo-flipping, but I salute Bonnie Wong for proposing some new thinking on this subject. It does go back to my west side relatives and their reminiscences about front yard chats, and about building community. I think the city we crave is right in front of our nose if we're willing to work hard to make it happen.

That means more housing, more choice in the types of housing, and most of all uniting and not dividing Vancouver over the issue of foreign ownership.

– post by Mike

Mayor Corrigan unapologetic for state-side excursion
Separation Anxiety: What if south Fraser cities went their own way?

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  • Pingback: Build Community Not Investment Properties | Bonnie Foley-Wong()

  • Terry m

    I wonder who’s the bigot, mike, you or sandy. 🙂

  • Brilliant

    Yet another inexplicable attempt to minimize the problem. Expected from someone like Garr but nit from you. The 4% figure is a laughable joke. Maybe you and your wife shoukd check out some open houses in Vancouver this weekend. It would be easy enough to identify where the prospective buyers are coming from.

    As to bringing up the Hong Kong example if the 80’s/90’s- are you aware that there are 300,000 “Canadians” living in Hong Kong? Disproving the old expression, apparently one can go home again, after you’ve bought your citizenship. Doesn’t say much about a commitment to Canada though.

    • boohoo

      Do you ask the people you claim to see at these open houses what their story is or do you just look at them and assume?

      (Don’t worry, I don’t expect an answer…)

      • Paul H

        I have heard Bob Rennie quote the same figure and it really seems silly given the collection method. I own a rental condo in TO and for mail risk and timing issues, I have the tax assessments/bills mailed to an ON address that scans and forwards it to me. I would assume an Asian based investor would do the same thing for the same reasons. Add in the satellite families, where Mom and the kids are here and Dad works in the country of origin, I would assume tax assessments are mailed to the local address and not the foreign one.

      • nutshell

        can’t wait till the east side gets flooded with “west side refugees” a realtor’s term, and eastsiders start seeing luxury cars everywhere, main street turns into 4th avenue, lululemon opens a store on knight and everywhere you look are nannies, landscapers and building contractors

  • Eli

    Brilliant work, Mike.

    As a Canadian who was born abroad and has lived abroad for much of my adult life, I am reminded that Vancouver is a young city that has yet to mature whenever I hear people complaining about the pace of development (as in the recent Fraser St. discussion here) or the ethnic nature of development.

    Fact – world-class cities are expensive.
    Fact – world-class cities cities are amazing places to live because they are wildly diverse.

    This post makes me proud to follow City Caucus – Dialogue With a Difference. Your closing line, in particular, is inspiring.

    • Everyman

      Eli, what is a world class city? Vancouver certainly doesn’t have world class income and jobs. Despite our per square foot costs, we do not have anything approaching the quality of jobs available in London or New York. Mike used the example of Sydney, but Sydney is the financial capital and first city of Australia. And truth be told, the weather in Sydney is head and shoulders above that of Vancouver, making it (and most Australian cities) much more appealing.

  • Anonymous Guy

    Mr. Klassen, since you implicitly pooh-pooh government regulation/intervention in housing markets, can we assume you will support the dissolution of CMHC? That would mean no more taxpayer-backed mortgages or HELOCs.

    Let me guess: you favour government regulation and intervention as long as it favours real estate developers.

    Please confirm. Thanks.

    • Paul H


      Bit of appleas and oranges. A tariff/tax on buyers isn’t the same kind of government interactions as supporting first time buyers/high ratio mortgage buyers trying to get into the market. CMHC has been fairly effective and a downright home run when compared to their US counter parts. More to the point, it isn’t a binary issue of either all in or all out.

      This reminds of any issue around First Nations – you can’t get out of the gate with an idea without being derailed with racist rhetoric. That issue and the one at hand won’t ever have a meaningful discussion unless the Racist Bus gets parked.

      Bottom line, we have non-Canadian resident derived wealth entering Canada and exerting some influence on the real estate market (as well as other markets like retail, grocery, etc). If dropping the word Asian or Chinese makes people more comfortable to discuss the issue of whether this is, on the whole, good or bad, then go for it because the issue isn’t going to discuss or answer itself.

      • Steven Forth

        A broader question is the level of immigration. Canada’ demographics suggest that without immigration the population of Canada will decline. This may or may not be a good thing, and at some point in the next 100 years it is probably inevitable. But if one accepts for the moment that we want some level of immigration and overall population growth than one must ask what kind of immigration. I would like to see investor immigration completely eliminated. This is not a realistic source of capital and it leads to the kind of market distortion people are concerned about. I would like to see more family immigration and a lot more immigration by students, knwoeldge workers and skilled artisans, trades people, artists, scientists etc. The most important resource for us to grow is the knowledge and skills of the people who live here. But this is not a municipal or even a provincial issue.

  • Birdy

    Great article, but seeing Allen Garr becoming a libertarian makes me wonder if the world really is coming to an end.

    The real “solution” here is to stop trying to solve reality. Reality is not a problem to be fixed. Sometimes you can afford to live where you want, sometimes not. Sometimes you have to compromise. That’s just reality, not a problem. I wish I had a fancy mansion, but I don’t. Probably won’t. That’s ok.

  • Brett

    Sorry. This is not a rasism issue. This is a globalization issue. We need to protect our citizens. The same citizens that have paid taxes and have had their parents etc pay taxes. We need to encourage people to have kids and live here. Our middle class is disappearing.
    Plain and simple we need to make affordable housing something more then 500 sqft.
    What about all these empty houses? Empty condos? If they were full we would have people contributing to the economy.
    Another issue, the money itself. Where does it come from? Is it fair that it hasn’t been taxed or looked at to ensure it is legit? Meanwhile BC citizens pay tax upon tax to a point owning a home is unaffordable?

  • Brilliant

    @boohoo,as much as I would like you to hold your breath waiting fir an answer…

    Simple. My Chinese-Canadian wife can read an accent pretty well at open houses, plus overhear very nicely. Perhaps the investor class hasn’t quite reached your Fraser hood yet (funny, I could have sworn you claimed Cambie as home elsewhere but I digress).

    Now that I’ve made full disclisure, others participating in the discussion will do the same.

  • boohoo

    And you troll open houses weekly do you? That seems odd but whatever floats your boat.

    My family has been in the Cambie Corridor for 100+years. I currently live in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage. Thanks for keeping up with me though.

    This whole trend here (and in many other places) on believing what you ‘feel’ is real rather than what is real is disturbing.

    • Steven Forth

      Well said Boohoo. We need to make decisions based on data and not random impressions. Immigrants have always driven Vancouver housing prices and will do so for the next few decades. I would like to see less investor immigration and more skilled immigration, but to pretend that Vancouver can somehow insulate, or should insultate itself, from the rest of the world is foolish.

  • Jason Gordon

    Well said Birdy.

    Less than 25% (roughly) of home purchases in Vancouver use a CMHC insured mortgage.

    Removing the ability to deduct interest on a principal residence is worthy of public debate..and if changed, would modestly help affordability.

    A less talked about cause of higher prices is the large increase in average home size and standard features…or luxuries.

  • rf

    Not to go all “Boohoo” with the style of question…

    So let’s say it’s not Chinese foreign buyers. The consensus is saying, it’s not Chinese foreign buyers, therefore what’s going on is OK.

    My question is, “what if it is?” If the stats shift and a year from now 75% of buyers are Chinese foreign buyers and housing prices are up 50%.

    If that happens, is it ok or not ok?

    It’s fair to quote to the statistics and say “no it’s not chinese foreign buyers” (i would still argue that it is, or at least the money to buy is coming from offshore into the hands of relatives who happen to have residency), but does it answer the xenophobic (as some want to call it) fears?

    We cry bloody murder to protect airlines, food supply, water, corporations in general from foreigners.

    What is a reasonable tipping point to cry bloody murder to protect housing that is even moderately affordable to the average income of this city?

    If the future shows that the average taxable income of someone who is buying a $3,000,000 house is $15,000/year…..when do we have a problem that is not racist?

  • boohoo

    “So let’s say it’s not Chinese foreign buyers. The consensus is saying, it’s not Chinese foreign buyers, therefore what’s going on is OK.”

    I don’t know who said it’s not foreign buyers therefore it’s ok?

    Prices going up is a problem, whether it’s from foreign buyers, local speculators or whatever. But I’m not sure why we’re surprised at this? We promoted/continue to promote the hell out of Vancouver, cringe everytime we’re not number 1 on some random list of ‘bests’ yet we’re shocked that people are buying up properties? Really?

    Concurrently, we deride several new developments as destroying our communities, stalling the development of new housing, driving up prices. So, places like Langley, Surrey etc build more and more greenfield development, worsening our reliance on cars and costing us billions in infrastructure upgrades. That buck gets passed to homeowners across the region who cry and moan that they have to pay more.

    Blame ‘foreign investors’ all you want, maybe it’s time we look in the mirror. Talk about wanting your cake (and ice cream and chocolate and whipping cream) and eating it too.

  • Max

    Worth a read through:

    Chinese Vancouver: A decade of change
    HONG KONG — Remember “Hongcouver?” You don’t hear that word much anymore in the polite society of Vancouver, a city that has grown into Canada’s — and North America’s — most effortlessly Asian metropolis.

    By The Vancouver Sun , June 2007

  • Max

    Question: If ‘Asian’ buyers only make up 4% of the realestate investment crowd, how do you explain Richmond?

    • Julia

      at what point does an immigrant become a Canadian…when their skin colour changes or when they live here, work here and pay taxes here?

      • gasp

        How about when they pay taxes on their WORLDWIDE INCOME as all residents of Canada are required to do under our tax laws? Note that you can be a resident of Canada for taxation purposes even if you don’t live here full time.

        So if your wife and children are living here, for example, and you have “permanent resident” status by way of the “immigrant investor program”, you are supposed to be paying taxes here on all the money you earn WORLDWIDE.

        As Macleans magazine noted quite a few years ago, and der Spiegel pointed out recently, the current crop of these immigrant investors have figured out that they can easily get around Canada’s lax enforcement of its income tax laws by having their families live here, while working in China and declaring no income to Revenue Canada.

        • Max

          Another good read and a quote from it:

          …’Unlike in the U.S., the Canadian government does not keep track of the number of properties bought by non-residents.’

          Offshore bids price Canadians out of housing market

        • Max


          If you remember several years back, there was a ‘warring’ issue in Lebanon. And all of a sudden there were 1,000’s of people in Lebanon waving Canadian passports demanding our government get them out.

          And yes, our government at great expense chartered flights for these people, who returned primarily to Montreal to wait out the political storm – a few weeks, only to pack up and head back to Lebanon after the fact.

          These people referred to as ‘Canadians of Convenience’, don’t live here, don’t work here, don’t pay taxes or contribute in any way to our society or economy, but hold duel passports for….convenience. (I am sure if there are medical issues they are back in a heartbeat)

          The taxpayers of this country picked up the tab for their ‘rescue’ from Lebanon and basically got the ‘finger’ for it.

      • Max

        Yes, Julia, I know – I am ‘white’ so that automatically makes me and any other ‘white’ person that takes ‘issue’ with certain ‘issues’ – racist.

        Tired of having that worn out card played.

  • Max

    And one more addressing China placing caps on foreign ownership:

    ……’Several other countries have introduced restrictions on foreign investment, including, ironically, China to curb rising prices and investor speculation. Some of these restrictions include foreigners only being allowed to own one residential property for their own use, while residents are restricted to two. Foreigners must reside in the country for one year before they can purchase real estate. In addition, mortgage lending rules where tightened for investors and Chinese cities introduced property taxes in areas where they did not previously exist.’

  • Thought of The Day

    “It’s not the Chinese… it’s me.”

    Humor me.
    Lay down on the couch. Any couch.
    Make sure you are not in a public or working space. Be home, be safe.
    It could get awkward.
    Open your eyes. (tell you why in a moment)
    Wide. (so you can read this, that’s why)


    “Listen to my voice.” (ahem, read my words aloud)
    “You are completely relaxed.
    You are not aware of any other sounds, but my voice.” (please read with an Italian accent if you want, like in Rome)
    “Relax, Frankie goes to Hollywood.
    You are completely relaxed!”

    I never joke!
    “It’s not the Chinese, it’s me.”

    It’s you the listener that finds what I’m saying, funny, or not. I am actually a serious, very serious person. Never laughed at anything in my entire life. (when I was little boy, people thought that I will make a great living in Buster Keaton comedies… the ‘talkies’ came on, though)

    Next, I’ll make three very serious suggestions.
    It is up to you, the reader, to perceive them as jokes, if you may.
    Any funny thought that you may have right this very moment, must be put away.
    This is serious.

    “There is no such a thing as Chinese “Investors””

    “There is no worthless paper money buying real Canadian assets.”

    “There is nothing fishy going on.”

    I’m going to count down from three now.
    When you’ll wake up you’ll feel as relaxed as after a riot…





    “Close your eyes now.”

    “It’s not you, it’s me…”

    In retrospect, it took Vivian Krause @FairQuestions, years of her own time and energy and money to bring the US Charity scam into the attention of Canadian authorities.

    I have no doubt it will take years till some of the very people “not seeing now” will start seeing the angle to this other story right after their generous private property SALE. I know, it’ll be a Miracle!

    Till then though… 🙂

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

    • Jack Sparrow

      Holy cow! I didn’t think I’d see these things in writing (I mean the links posted by Remmy) Embezzlement by Chinese officials trying to hide assets in North America,yes who would have thought of that, or schoolgirls who are buying million dollars houses!!!!!
      $40 million doalrsshacks looked atby Chinese investors??? Aren’t they supposed to be Communists like ALL EQUAL LOL? No Glissando…it’s not you!
      Well put.

  • Working Mom

    Oh sigh! This is my biggest issue with Vancouver, and I am trying to decide if I should stay or move.

    I live in east van, in a dam condo with a child. My condo strata are so anti children that my child is even afraid to walk down the hall for fear the strata council will complain. There are only two children in our building and they are not even allowed to play in the lobby area, not even for 5 minutes! Living in a cramped condo is the only thing we can afford here in Vancouver and it feels more like child abuse.

    There is a huge development plan going on down by east Fraserlands, and I am so angry because they are focusing on wealthy Chinese buyers. Go there and you will see that most of the staff both from Parklane and Polygon are Chinese. If you go to the Polygon presentation office they will soon rather talk to a Chinese/Asian person rather than non-Chinese. You can stand around and no one will talk to you if there are Chinese prospective buyers also present. The townhomes they are building and will be on sale this weekend, are way out to the price range for a middle class family. So you know they are targeting foreign buyers.

    It seems that developers can appease City Hall and Vision with their development plans by saying they will help the homeless with adding social housing, then focus on building condos and selling to foreign investors. It is all about greed – both Vision (by exploiting the homeless issue for political gains) and developers have no care for the WORKING FAMILIES that need a real home for our children.

    What do I want as a working mom living in Vancouver?

    • I want an affordable home that has a small yard so our children can play safely.
    • I want to live in a neighbourhood where your neighbours live in the house and want to contribute to the community rather than just own for investment purposes.
    • I want a home that is close to a GOOD school (another issue for me) and shops.
    • I want us to live near a community center that provide more children programs to meet the schedules of working families and not just stay at home moms. Too many recreation programs are offered during the week day and it is hard when you work from 9 – 5pm.

    As a working mom living in Vancouver, I want the City to step up and focus on working families living in Vancouver who truly need real affordable homes for their children.

    Really – is that too much to ask for?

    • Very good comment working mom.
      Excellent questions.
      Reasonable wishes.
      Some Realtors say that 5 people crammed in a 1 Bedroom Condo is a good thing, a step up to the future.
      Some Realtors also say that 3 people in a 5,000 sqft Mansion is OK, as long as they are on a retainer, like first shot at the imminent sale.
      It depends. Who you’re talking to.
      BTW, Mike, whatever happened to my contrasting comment?

    • Steven Forth

      There is an interesting point burried in here. How do we as a culture feel about condos that ban children? My gut feeling is that I am strongly opposed to this and that it is a human rights issue, but I prefer to live with and around children (I am a grandparent and in Boston I stay with a couple who have two small children). I also think we are rewiring our tax and social system to privilige older people and penalize younger people with children, but this is impressionistic on my part and I may be wrong.

      • Working Mom

        Steven – you are right there is an underlying issue here in Vancouver and family living lifestyle …there is none.

        Vancouver is so anti-Family that it is really hard to raise a child in Vancouver. With such a focus on Condo building and yes –many to most of these condos don’t want children that providing a comfortable safe home for children is a challenge.

        Here is my world as a mother living in a condo with a child:

        • Resident below complains because there is too much “noise” when my child plays (which is below the normal noise level of a 5 year old).

        • With only two children in the whole building they are not allowed to play in the hall, even on rainy days. We were told that they can only play outside the building or inside our condo – which is moot when you have people complaining about the noise level.

        • There was a rip in the carpet by the elevator and I received 4 emails, two phone messages and a call asking if my 5 year old did this. If they took better notice they would have seen that the rip and the big dent on the wall by the ceiling and the fact that it was at the end of the month –this damage was done by someone moving. I was also promptly told that my child is not allowed to use his scooter or bike in the hall way as we leave the building. Basically I felt harassed and my child persecuted.

        • We are so concerned about noise that we are hardly home for fear of getting a threating letter from Property Management with a fine. Even though we do everything in our power to keep quiet.

        • In the bike room there was a used crack pipe by my child’s bike!!!! Which he picked up and asked me what it was! BY MY CHILD’S BIKE!

        As a mother, this is not normal living for a family and yet Vision Vancouver, developers and even Sam Sullivan want more one & two bedroom condos and extreme densification here.

        They are so short sighted that Vancouver will become a city of wealthy empty nesters, single people who can only afford studio or one bedroom condos, more social housing (which will only attract more “needy” people from across Canada to come here so that they can get free and luxury housing) and foreign investors who have no desire to contribute to the community of Vancouver!!

        Yes there is an underlying issue – if you are a working middle class family that is actually struggling to live in Vancouver, WE the ones that are being victimized by greed and are just getting tired of it.

        • Jack Sparrow

          I agree with both your comments WM.

  • Ned

    Mike, and others trying to defend this “No Asian real estate investor” myth. I am looking at that stampede lookalike picture you pasted with the post. Call me “Asian” blind, but I see none… right? As for Larry Beasley… Vice President of Aquilini Developments, wow, conflict of interest… sell the Canadian dream to Asia!

  • Brilliant

    @boohoo-I wouldn’t csll visiting open houses “trolling” but I defer to your proven expertise in that subject.

    Like others have asked, why are you, Mike and others so anxious to minimize the issue of Asian buyers? To justify developers pushing for high density buildings to push working Vancouverites into or is it something more personal?

    • Steven Forth

      I can’t speak for Mike or Boohoo, but I support higher density in my neighbourhood because (i) I much prefer living in high density neighbourhoods and (ii) I believe that these higher densities will make it more affordable for my kids and grandkids to live near me. To the extent that it is a business issue, I would like to be able to bring young designers and software engineers to Vancouver to work on companies and in the future I hope to have a company that makes things in Vancouver (stuff you can drop on your foot) so I will need artisans, engineers, mechanics, etc. And I think that cities with a rich and aggressive art world are more interesting to live in and spark more interesting companies. So if Vancouver becomes too expensive for young artists to create in it will slump. I am concerned that this is already happening and that young Canadians are gravitating to Montreal.

  • boohoo

    I’m not anxious to do anything. But I do like dealing in facts. I know it might feel like something should be true, but I deal in reality.

    I’m not sure what you’re implying with your last queation.

  • skippy

    The issue here is not race or ethnicity. This is about wealth from overseas that was derived from a totalitarian state that manipulates its currency, ignores free collective bargaining, ignores freedom of contract,ignores and has been admonished for ignoring human rights, ignores very basic international labour standards, uses the military to suppress freedom of region, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and extracts extreme economics rents from its citizens through sate sponsored oppression and violence. The centralized totalitarian regime engages in state sponsored virtual terrorism and supports and arms the likes of Iranian and Syrian dictators to murder innocents. The wealth derived from this Leninist style government is concentrated in the hands of the government cronies. Looking for a place to park their ill gotten wealth, they find a welcome home here in Vancouver. So, no this is not about free markets. This is the anti-thesis of free markets and is about the global reach of ill gotten wealth and the mobility of that capital and the pathetic response of Vision Vancouver.

  • nutshell

    if you own a home, you love what is happening in real estate. you are proud of yourself for buying in this world class city, and you wish everyone would shut up so you could dream big because your house keeps rising in selling value – you don’t really care why.

    If you don’t own a home, you are probably looking around and listening for reasons why not. you see a lot of buildings being developed and a lot of for sale signs, but the population of vancouver city isn’t really changing and the place next to yours is empty.

    • Mira

      Concise at the point in a “nutshell” 🙂
      Required reading for Steven Forth, Mike Klassen, Allen Garr, boohoo, and others who… by throwig the dirt under the rug simply want their “investment” to grow in value. Period. Say it ain’t so…

  • Steven Forth

    Great column Mike. Iam not sure that all the commentators you mention would recognize their own views in how you presented them, but I think you do cover many of the views. My own thinking is pretty closely aligned with Allen Garr. We exagerate the impact of Chinese investors, we have to open up more housing options, and we have to work together to grow local connections and friendships in multicultural neighborhoods. My family lives near Commercial, near Cambie or in Kits and all three are great places with rich social networks.

    • Mira

      Oh, but you are so full of it Steven.
      “We exagerate the impact of Chinese investors, we have to open up more housing options, and we have to work together to grow local connections and friendships in multicultural neighborhoods.”
      This is pure unadulterated BS what you just wrote in here. Allen Garr? The guy is already past his sleeping time in terms of… vision!

  • Sandy Garossino

    Interesting article, Mike.

    Would it be ok if I outline my own position, since you have somewhat tailored it to fit a certain narrative of your own?

    Here’s my argument:

    a) We have a housing affordability crisis that is seriously damaging our future sustainability and causing what Stephen Toope calls a “massive exodus” of our talented young grads–the human capital that forms the foundation of modern urban economies;

    b) Although Vancouver has always been expensive, it is irresponsible not to see how extreme and dangerous the situation has now become–we are significantly less affordable than New York and London;

    c) The official response has been to focus on the supply side, but in periods of irrational exuberance and speculation, you have to look for causes at the demand side;

    d) There is ample (some would say overwhelming) prima facie evidence suggesting external forces are affecting the demand side, to the detriment of our diverse local economy. This view was first put forward by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada–a fact universally over-looked by my critics. But it’s true, we don’t have sufficient hard data to make policy changes;

    e) Therefore we should track international transactions and do a market analysis to determine the basis for the extraordinary and damaging speculative buying that has sent our market out of sight in such a short time. Then, and only if the research supports it, we should consider regulatory responses such as are employed in Europe, Australia, Singapore, HK, to modulate extreme volatility on the demand side.

    For some reason critics resist all calls for actually getting hard data. It’s much more convenient to their narrative to darkly intimate, or just come right out and say, that market skeptics are racist.

    Here’s a link to my blog post which sets out the reasons why we need to stop burying our heads in the sand:


  • Sandy Garossino

    It is also worth adding that my main focus has not been the issue of international capital–though that has got all the media attention–but rather the extremity of the affordability crisis and the responsibility of government to respond in a meaningful way.

    Statements suggesting that Vancouver has always been expensive, or that young people have always left town, obscure the unprecedented severity of what is happening now.

    We are losing a whole generation of young people of all cultural backgrounds, and once they leave, they take one version of our future with them.

    Failing to care for our young people is deeply irresponsible, and we have an obligation to put aside optics and politics and start asking hard questions.

    We have to ensure that our young people (regardless of whether their great-grandparents were born in Chandigarh, Chengdu, Glasgow or Musqueam) can build a future here.

    Now, I may be wrong in my worry that international capital is distorting our market. In fact it might even be that RUMOURS of international capital have distorted the market. Goodness knows the difference between truth and rumours means nothing to a salesman.

    Or it may be something else altogether.

    But for heaven’s sake, let’s stop playing games and start getting accurate data so we can develop an effective policy response that protects our young.

    • Steven Forth

      I share Sandy’s concern about the future of Vancouver if we fail to provide (i) higher paying jobs from companies grown in Vancouver, (ii) many housing and work options for creative young people and (iii) affordable housing options for all.

      I doubt that anyone really understands the dynamics of the housing market so the research that Sandy outlines should be an immediate priority. We also need research to see whether the trend I perceive (but which may not be real) that young people are leaving. And research on local capital formation and reinvestment is also critical to understanding our future.

      The reach for external capital (rather from foreign, Calagary or Toronto investors) or immigrant investors is a weak way to build an economy. Urban economies are built from the inside out.

  • nutshell

    i heard gregor doesn’t give a hoot but maybe one of you (sandy, mike or steven) should tell him to check this out

    i think in canada the politicians are supposed to work for the people

  • vancouverbubbleman
  • Thought of The Night

    “Trouble comes in three’s.”

    Three reasons, that I see, IMO, as being at the core of the housing affordability crisis throughout the western world, in the past two decades.

    The silent fight between the HaveOwns and HaveOwnNots. Are you working in a Unionized environment OR a private one? For the first is a race to the top dollar, for the second is a matter of survival. This is a local matter.

    Yes, you got that right. Decades after decades of North American corporations, fighting for bigger profits, taking away millions of jobs, and sending them to China, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Eastern Europe… places where Human Rights violations were looked at as an accepted cost for doing business with the Yanks or with the Canucks!
    You can bet your kid’s RESPs that the majority of multimillionaire investors in Canada, from any of these countries, are sheltering their loot in… Real Estate.
    This is an International matter.

    1989. That was it for the Eastern Europe. The Cold War was over. The race between Them and Us have become obsolete. Country after country, from the former communist bloc, were economically destroyed, ripped apart, piece by piece ,sold for peanuts, making billionaire oligarchs out of former felons, and secret police, or highly ranked political apparatchik. Best way to protect their new found wealth? Real Estate in Canada, USA, majority of the Western Europe…Asking price? You’re laughing, no problem, nobody’s asking, because if you do, it means you can not afford it.
    Ochen Horosho!

    The former public/ social protection tools were abandoned one by one in favor of a new “free market”, the doors to offshore investment were open, and foreign political peddling started accepting applications.
    China with over 6 Billion people on board is simply the biggest player that seized the opportunity. Backed by $ trillions, on paper, in bad debt bought at a fraction from North American banks, they sent in the first wave in the form of “business applicants”… the ones that benefited the most from point 2 – OUTSOURCING.

    Then, once a pied a terre is established, new ways to conquer the west are initiated…
    This is one of them:

    (a simple example in which the host family gets paid by the alien family, all the “unexpected” expenses are paid by the Canadian government, the only ones that get screwed are you and me)

    I know some people tries to make this sensible subject sound and look very complicated, but… it is not. In times of war, profiteering is a matter of honor, meaning you’re an idiot (kidding) if you are not some part of it.
    Vancouver is in the middle of such a war, Real Estate war, that is.
    As for the future… the asking prices in Vancouver, are becoming so ridiculous, soon, West Vancouver will look like a bargain.
    I could talk on the subject for hours but…

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

    Mike… @ City Caucus
    More than two days ago I posted, twice, one comment that it seems to have gone AWOL!
    Any thoughts on that?

    • Terry M

      Excellent glissy! What other post are you talking about? The one addressed to Working Mom?

  • Max

    @Glissy re: Passport Tourism..

    Not new. My cousin, a doctor, worked in one of the local ER’s back in the late 80’s early 90’s when there was speculation about what would happen to Hong Kong with the changeover.

    He talked about the number of Chinese women that were showing up in hospital and giving birth during their ‘vacation’.

    Now and sadly, someone has found away to profit from it.

  • Everyman

    Vancouver’s high housing prices claim another victim. A symptom of what is becoming a very serious problem for businesses in the city. Yet the band plays on.

    Vancouver’s housing market has claimed a high-profile victim. Jordan Tinney, the Vancouver School Board’s deputy superintendent, is leaving his position for a job with the Surrey school district.

    Read more:

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Please. Before we start deciding who is or isn’t a racist here—let us contemplate what we mean by our own Canadian values and the regulatory environment when it comes to property ownership.

    I submit here, a link to an article by Alice Poon in Hong Kong. You will be struck by similar arguments presented with regards to prices, housing, it pertians to outside investment.

    Please note the commments on this article appear to be made by Hong Kong, Mainland Chinese and some Chinese Canadians (native born and immigrants).

    What struck me is the vast divide with regard to cultural and political differences between the posters in this story.

    You have two political systems butting heads against each other. You have a fairly new, acccelerated economy in one. You have problems of just what is “kosher’ in financial transactions, due to new regulations from the Beijing government as per housing and property ownership. Some flight of capital in reaction, some spreading of risk, perhaps.

    Surprise! No one likes to pay taxes or be restricted–even in China! And what to do with all the new money that is flying around? So it will look to any jurisdiction that will allow it to operate.

    It is absolutley up to Canada, its government and the electorate to defineand determine EXACTLY what it means to live, own, and work here. We have to define ourselves so that anyone coming here understands that we play within our own rules as much as to the global ones. Because, right now, there are no global rules, when it comes to property ownership.

    Rules and regs in countries change are in constant flux, depending on the need at the time.

    Flush? Then you may feel you can/need to be more restrictive due to a variety of conditions.

    Desperate? You may welcome any form of investment, and have fewer reatrictions.

    Corrupt? Welcome to the Vancouver development industry! (just kidding…maybe).

    Some of the commentary made in the comments section of this link is very disturbing to me, in so far as the back of the hand is given to “Western democracy” by many self-described Mainland Chinese who wrote in answer to the post.

    I think determining that we ask everyone to declare their global income for tax purposes–as we do for all Canadian citizens–is good start. This may separate economic tourists from those with a genuine desire to help us build a better country.

    (Yes, there are Candians who work overseas who can be taxed “over there” only–as long as they are out of the country for more than two years–AND they are NOT allowed to own property in Canada while they are away and being charged in another tax jurisdiction. So, why do we allow landed immigrants to break that income tax rule?)…/images/stories/PDF/

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    PS Just to make my point clear.

    You cannot point to one unhappy factor (crazy ass housing prices) without asking what else is happening in our economy.

    Local job creation? Adequate tax base? Affordability?

    None of this should work on it’s own, or separate from a healthy, sustainable economy. It’s an integrated system that demands integrated solutions.

    We cannt count on housing development alone, regardless of who can pay they kind of prices we are seeing right now.

  • Max

    This just tweeted by the Courier:

    Chinese investors shutter Vancouver neighbourhood while apologists ‘cry’ racism:

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Here’s a blogger who checks out habitation on the West Side.

    Sort of a Margaret Mead of housing. Which would be funny. Except it’s not.

  • Cristian Worthington

    Very well written!

    I would encourage opponents of foreign ownership to take a long view. Over the long term many of these owners or their children will become net contributors to our community and we’ll all be better off.

    • jollybean

      except for the fact that much of the real estate is being bought for speculation purposes from abroad with no intention of ever moving here to work and contribute to the city, you have a point. i do agree that if people want to buy a house so that they can move here, work , pay taxes and start a long-term life here it is great- sadly , in many cases this is not the case and all we get is a real estate bubble that is forcing those that work, pay taxes and contribute to the city-to leave this city.

      • Paul H

        How do you define speculation? I always think of speculation as betting on an upside. What if that isn’t the motivation?

        I have been wondering recently if this isn’t more of a wealth preservation play versus income growth. If you are accumulating wealth in a country that has a closed economy, you would be concerned that you money could over night devalue by half because the government decided that is was better overall to say maintain an robust export business. You only option would be to move the funds off shore to something commodity like which would hold it value in the long term and any uptick would be a bonus – in simple terms, the $2,000,000 you parked in Vancouver real estate in 2010 is worth the same or slightly more in 2020 and not $500,000 as may be the case if you left it in your home country.

        It doesn’t necessary change the effect Vancouver but if you want to address a problem it would be best to bring it into the daylight and understand the motivations behind it. Solutions where you can’t align the motivations of all parties in some part usually fail to work.

        As someone pointed out, Canada will need immigration and foreign investment in the long term so we need to find a way to incorporate it without killing to host as such.

        • West End Gal

          “How do you define speculation?”
          As a DISEASE!
          As a CRIME!
          No difference than day light robbery, only here the thieves are wearing Armani suits and the guards are in it as well…

        • motivation
    • Everyman

      Cristian, you might check out the statistic posted upthread by Brilliant of 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong. Unless of course, you think they are all Anglo or Franco-Canadians who just happened to move to Hong Kong.

  • nutshell

    intriguing that both sides of the issue believe they are speaking out for the sake of vancouver’s future.

    well, if things keep moving forward as they have been we can all agree that there will be a lot less trees and birds and a lot more city noise and confusion

    oh well hey?! money is what matters

  • nutshell

    city noise in vancouver by the way is the sound of relentless construction cause other than that its a really quiet city

    take a long view CW

  • West End Gal

    Good comments Glissando Remmy, Sandy Garossino, Max, and AngryTaxPayer. Also great links, WOW.

  • The Angry Taxpayer


    Thanks for the link.

    ‘The key insight for me is that rather than pro-democracy feelings increasing as China grows economically, it is a radical, shrill nationalism that is emerging’ by economist Niall Ferguson.

    This tone is apparent from some commenters to a post in the first link I provided.

    It is also a topic in in the book, ‘The Fat Years’ by Koonchung Chan, a Mainland Chines novelist. I heard the author in a CBC interview the other day and was struck by the concerns he has for his country.

    “Chan has crafted a cunning caricature of modern China, with its friction between communism and consumerism, its desire to reframe the Revolution in terms of ‘market share and the next big thing.’ But he has also identified a deeper dislocation, one stretching from China to the world.”
    —Los Angeles Times

    Extremely readable.

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    PS I would say that Chan is a brave author, as he is not an ex-pat, lives in China and he is pointing out some of the boils coming to the surface of a notoriously thin-skinned country.

    But then, in refelection, I see the PRC seems to have similar anxieties as to the possible dystopia that may be awaiting around the corner.

    Here’s a link to the Amazon site and some more commentary from reviewers. Worth a read.

  • The Angry Taxpayer
  • Max

    @Angry Taxpayer:

    Recently I ran into a biz associate, who was once upon a time, Vancouver based.

    He moved his head office and his family to Hong Kong. Why, taxes.

    Here, he stated all in (personal income, federal income, medical, HST etc) he figured he was paying 68% of his earned income to taxes. In Hong Kong, he figures that number is now around 12%.

    He and his family have applied for HK citizenship, which they will get in about 2 years.

    In the meantime, he refers to himself as a ‘tax refugee’ and has no regrets.

    Jobs have been off-shored so we can have cheap goods,companies maker bigger profits and avoid the union crap that plagues a lot of big business, and in-turn, those people profiting from our stupidity & greed are ‘coming home to roost’.

  • The Angry Taxpayer


    Why, what do we have here?! It appears the Brits (such an unsophisticated group, in that little backwater called London) have imposed some new rules on foreign ownership as of their March 2012 budget. Fancy that!

    The UK gov’t has imposed 7% stamp duty on foreign property purchases over £2M, and 15% if bought through a company.

    And who is upset? Developers and real estate agents. For your reading pleasure, straight from the ‘Rotten Boroughs’ (apologies to ‘Private Eye’):

    • Jack Sparrow

      Two of us now. You may be The Angry Taxpayer, but so am I after reading the articles you posted 🙂

    • Steven Forth

      The point being that it is the national government that did this, so if we want to go in this direction we should be lobbying the federal level.

  • VanCityLady

    There is some property downtown on Robson Street that has been an empty lot for years. Dogs play (and poop) there, people litter, homeless camp out there etc.
    I always wondered who owned it. One day I met a real estate agent and found out. He told me this property is owned by a wealthy Hong Kong family that bought that land years ago and immediately tore down the houses on that property before they became heritage buildings. Then they just left it there. Real estate agents have been going to Hong Kong for years to try to buy and develop it, but the family will not sell it, yet will not develop it. It is just one of the many properties they own. But you could put buildings, stores, daycares, or even a park there! Rather than leaving it a sea of mud for the 200 days (minimum) of the year that it rains in Vancouver! Can’t something be done?
    Also houses in some parts of Vancouver have gone up to 2 million. Even if both adults in the family are making 100,000 each a year, they still can’t afford the 200,000 down payment, unless they inherit money, borrow it from family or win the lottery!
    Again, something needs to be done!!!

    • Higgins

      If this continues, locals will be forced to move out of Vancouver and surrounding areas so that foreigners could move in and make it another Chinese province of their own. $200,000 per household? Never-gonna-happen! Not in a lifetime! Thanks Canada! For allowing us locals to work for it, pay for it, build it and then sell it to strangers, when is nice and cozy! Oh, Canada!

  • so now what

    An interesting letter that argues that China’s influence on Vancouver RE is “a normal state of affairs.”

    • Ms Jones

      Ha, ha
      Terry Chan’s letter is a breath of pungent air, ha, ha.
      China last I heard, is a COMMUNIST society, where everyone is EQUAL, yet the Chinese flying over here, are all loaded with the millions of dollars their own government is after. How about that… “Terry”! LOL