bad reporting: chinese home ownership in vancouver

$8m property in Kerrisdale
$8m property in Kerrisdale

Affordable housing is among the biggest of Vancouver’s headaches, as is the case in many cities. It’s a hot policy topic. And if I were to use two words to summarise what the discussion boils down to, they would be: Chinese buyers.

The general public consensus in Greater Vancouver is that housing prices are being driven up by an influx of foreign – namely, mainland Chinese – purchases, especially for investment rather than residence purposes.

National Post just published this article: ‘In a six-month period, 70% of detached homes sold in Vancouver’s west side went to Mainland China buyers

Good job, whoever wrote this attention-grabbing headline that re-affirms the reader’s existing beliefs. To be clear, it was 66% – two-thirds – not 70% – and the study can’t actually determine whether the buyers are from mainland China, but hey! Xenophobic fearmongering got you over 12,000 shares on Facebook,  so who cares about facts.

The article presents the findings of the new study and uses it as a springboard to make inflammatory suggestions. The study itself was actually very simple: Of the 172 detached houses sold for $3m+ in six months…

1. Did the buyer take out a mortgage?
2. How many names are listed on the title?
3. What is the occupation of the owner?
4. Does the owner have a Chinese-sounding name?

I looked into the study. The name analysis methodology it used leaves a lot to be desired – like the basic fact that ‘Wong San Fung’, the name that they use as a sample “non-Anglicized Chinese name”, is most definitely not a mainland Chinese name.

The article goes on to elaborate why the study was commissioned in the first place. Apparently the MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey had received many complaints about “hollowed-out neighbourhoods, absentee investors, property flipping, and suspicions of money laundering and unfair tax avoidance.”

Okay, the fact that 18% of the homes had no mortgage is scary.

Is this discussion REALLY about dirty money though? Or is it rising housing prices? Or even about neighbourhood cohesion and migrant integration? Why else would the article say, “Ethnic Chinese comprised 73% of all buyers”? I am ethnic Chinese; I take issue with the link between my ethnicity and “exploiting tax code loopholes,” as implied by the article.

The MLA: “The questions that come up for me are: China is an authoritarian state that has lots of issues with corruption. Is the money coming into Vancouver the kind we want to be encouraging?”

Me: The questions that come up for me are: The average person in Vancouver finds it difficult to rent, never mind own a home. Is Chinese corruption seriously your top concern? Or do you maybe want to focus on ensuring affordable housing?

The city planner who undertook the study, who doesn’t have constituents to please: “I think the bigger question to be studied is what happens when the driver for your residential market is wealth, not wages? That is a major public policy issue.”

Bottom line(s):

  • Is housing becoming increasingly unaffordable in Greater Vancouver? Yes.
  • Are Chinese buyers making up the majority of new expensive-home ownership? Yes.
  • Is this worsening the unaffordable housing situation? We don’t know.
  • Is their money dirty? We don’t know.
  • Does anti-mainland-Chinese sentiment exist in Vancouver? If the National Post is anything to go by, then yes.

If either the MLA or the Post actually gave a darn about unfair tax avoidance, as they claim, then do a proper investigation or write a proper exposé on the issue. Instead, they came up with a bunch of baseless insinuations that plant fear and resentment and divide the community.

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