August 17, 2015

A Choice of Suicides: Political response to Vancouver’s real-estate market

It’s hard to keep up with the coverage on what is probably the No. 1 topic of conversation in this city.  Here’s a sampling from the last few weeks.


From the Los Angeles Times:

Chinese 1.


From the Globe and Mail:

Chinese 2


From cupcakecartoons:


From the Vancouver Sun:

Chinese 3


Lots of interpretation and comment follow from all this.  But the most remarkable quote I found was in The Sun story above, from Dan Scarrow, a Macdonald Realty vice-president who runs the firm’s Shanghai office:

With the average cost of a detached house in Vancouver hitting $2.23 million and little official government data about who is buying real estate in Vancouver, emotions have been high about what can be done.

Scarrow suggested the city could raise property taxes, which currently are below 0.5 per cent, compared to one per cent in Toronto and between two to three per cent in some U.S. cities.

This is probably the first time in recorded history that a realtor has suggested the City raise property taxes.

That’s a third-rail issue in municipal politics, and that’s because there’s a little problem in Scarrow’s suggestion: the City would have to raise the tax rate on all the properties in an assessment class equally – say, RS-1 or single-family homes.  Regardless of the value of the property or the income of the homeowner, every property in the class would see an equal rise in the rate, if not in the actual dollar amount.

Political suicide.

But still, as this issue bubbles away, it will likely boil over at some time (unless, due to an external force like a crash in the economy and the real-estate market, the problem of unaffordable housing resolves itself.)  Collecting the data is only the first step.  It’s the second step – namely, what intervention should be taken – that decision-makers fear.  But once the issue is defined or reaches a critical mass, the backlash could create consequences beyond their control unless they take action.

Political suicide either way.

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  1. I find it interesting that the Conservatives have been the only party to make a promise (for whatever it’s worth) to look into this issue. I suppose the Liberals have too much of their brand invested in “multiculturalism” to tackle it, but it was a major failing of Mulcair’s NDP to not get out in front on the issue. That failure seems to me like one more indication that Mulcair is unaware of western issues, and too focused on telling Quebeckers what they want to hear.

  2. I grew up in Vancouver but no longer live there. When I see friends who still live in the Lower Mainland, they all say the same thing. Racism is on the rise, and real resentment towards Asians is growing. Personally I don’t see the point of getting upset about the shift in culture. Money always wins out. We displaced the indigenous populations and Asian money will displace white populations. But it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 20 years.

      1. Except that’s why I don’t live there anymore. I chose to roll with the tide instead of trying to fight its inevitability.

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