November 27, 2017

Looks like Foreign Ownership was a Vancouver Issue After All

After being vilified for doing the right work for the right reason,  urban planner and Duke of Data Andy Yan is now being recognized for his 2015 research in reviewing the ownership of new houses on Vancouver’s west side. What he found was that two-thirds of house buyers had “non-Anglicized Chinese names”. Without any other reliable way to collect the data, Andy Yan provided the first true research into the pouring of foreign dollars into the Vancouver real estate market. This study was important as it showed that Vancouver housing was being held as an appreciating asset instead of its original purpose of actually housing Vancouverites.
As Dan Fumano in the Vancouver Sun writes  “key figures in B.C.’s real estate industry criticized Andy Yan’s work and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson responded publicly, saying: “This is a public policy issue, not a race issue — and any confusion to the contrary only risks dividing our city. 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.”
Well two years have passed, real estate prices have continued a rocketing ride skywards, making accessibility to financing and affordability for local residents real issues. There are also now studies indicating that the majority of jobs in Vancouver will be left unfilled in the near future due to the high cost of housing. Simply put, you can’t make enough money to afford to live here. And the idea that foreign investment could have a negative impact on housing prices is now being discussed at all three levels of government with the City of Vancouver wanting to ” collaborate with the provincial and federal governments to explore the viability of “restricting property ownership by non-permanent residents.”
That is part of the housing strategy  that  the City will be considering for approval on Tuesday, and is a marked  policy change in how foreign ownership of Vancouver housing stock is being viewed. “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.”
No one from the City of Vancouver has apologized to Andy Yan for the mayor’s unfortunate comments on his 2015 groundbreaking study. The dividing of the city that the Mayor referred to has happened  not because of Andy Yan’s research, but by the  hollowing out of affordable, attainable housing in Vancouver. That is not a “risk dividing the city” but the sad reality of having no municipal policy supporting housing for local people. Hopefully Vancouver’s 10 Year Housing Strategy will mark a new conciliatory approach  and respond to emerging data and alarming trends.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


Leave a Reply to Dan RossCancel Reply

  1. Post
  2. Thanks for wasting two years Gregor. And as Bob Ransford has posted here in the past, I hope he will drop in to apologize to Andy Yan as well.
    I was speaking to a friend who’s son is a recently graduated engineer. He was able to get a good job here, but after realizing that he will never be able to afford a home in Vancouver is planning to move to Alberta.

    1. It’s very sad that the engineer’s son didn’t bother looking at apartments.
      There are two housing economies: (i) Detached houses on large lots; and (ii) attached multi-family. Both have followed separate tracks. According to a feature article in the Saturday Globe’s Report on Business, the sales of big hunks of land with a detached house have cooled and they’re sitting on the market a lot longer now in Metro Vancouver and the GTA. But prices have not moved downward. This even in the face of taxes on foreign wealth.
      Apartments are selling even faster, and prices have risen, but not as much if there wasn’t a building boom in condos to keep them from rising even faster.
      Not many have two and a half million bucks in their wallet these days for a standard East Side lot, let alone three and a half for the West Side.
      Median prices of apartments as of last month:
      $642,000 (Metro)
      $806,500 (West Side)
      $538,500 (East Side)
      $587,000 (Burnaby North)
      $491,000 (New West)
      $487,000 (Coquitlam)
      Most of these units are close to rapid transit.
      Given the above information, it’s clear you’re not telling the whole story. Perhaps there was another element pulling the son out of Vancouver (another job, romance ….), or he was rooked by the pipe dream of a detached house on 4,000 fts2 of land and ignored everything else.

      1. Why would anybody with an eye to starting a family want a million dollar box in the sky when one province over you can get a nice detached home with yard with room for your family to grow? And you won’t have to make yourself house-poor to do so. It makes perfect sense, unless you really buy into the Best Place on Earth bilge the BC Liberals were peddling.

      2. So economic forces don’t really count, and it’s all down to marketing?
        I lived in Alberta for 22 years and there’s a few things I know well:
        – Their cities have oceans of cheap land at the periphery to gobble up five subdivisions at a time. Land value is nothing compared to Metro Vancouver where it is very limited and therefore matters more.
        – Supply and demand are greatly affected by the boom-and-bust provincial resource economy, and employment. They boomed and busted several times over the last 40 years and still haven’t learned to diversify away from finite resources and stabilize.
        – Because of poor land planning in Calgary, the per capita energy consumption and emissions are higher than any of the other five largest cities in the nation. This matters when public budgets need to encompass an outsized road system, and will hit them as hard or harder when an oil-price ceiling or floor is beached again and the economy takes another tumble.
        – The writing is on the wall WRT the worldwide beginnings of the replacement of petroleum as the primary planetary fuel with electricity. Five of the largest car companies are about to kill or limit their production of internal combustion engines in favour of EVs or plug-in hybrids. Renewables are competing with coal in price and their growth is now exponential. Toyota and several other companies are nearing the release stage of solid state lithium batteries after years of research.
        – To top it off, Albertan proponents are not publishing their math on exporting bitumen, supposedly to capture the higher prices overseas that are currently discounted against West Texas crude. That narrative has been put though the media echo machine so many times that no one has asked them if they have actually secured sales contracts on a product that is so inferior the cost of refining it is higher than lighter oil. The U.S. Gulf Coast is the one place that currently takes it. To think that they will put our coast at risk in trying.
        Alberta is asleep at the switch, and it is being set up for a painful ride over the next decade. With an economy possibly yet another downturn, your friend’s son will do well to keep his options open to moving to a more stable jurisdiction.

  3. I am not familiar with the study methodology but if it is limited to “non-Anglicized Chinese names” how does it then follow that these names do not belong to landed immigrants or Canadian citizens? Don’t we need more information to make determinations of foreign money pouring in? and also why limit the study to a small area in the city which might be favored by a particular group of people for cultural reasons as compared to the entire city if we are trying to determine whether or not and if so to what extent foreign money has inflated property values? And if so why stop here, when there is likely a whole congregation of actors benefiting from a run up in value?

    1. The problem isn’t in the study but rather in the lack of any other source of hard data. The study is just trying to do the best it can with the admittedly very poor information that was available. Its value is that it spurred conversation and efforts to improve tracking exactly where the money was coming from.

  4. Andy’s proof is a lot of “non-Anglicized Chinese names”? Well I’m convinced, because there are certainly none of those foreign-types among the Residents and Citizens of this fair city; just Smiths, Johnstons, McGregors, and McTavishs from Coal Harbour to Marpole.

    1. It’s not proof, it’s evidence. I briefly looked this up when it came out: this is not a new methodology. If we have a significantly skewed distribution of names within a large sample, then it is very unlikely that the effect is random. This result is a strong indicator of a causal factor. It’s a reasonable hypothesis that a high proportion of those houses were bought with money from China. Had the distribution of Chinese names been the same as elsewhere, or lower, then that would have been evidence to the contrary.

  5. Fumano’s article mentions how r.e. agents are objecting to ending dual agency. It’s a peculiar, obfuscatory term. Agents actually refer to it as a double ender. An appropriate term is double agent – no ambiguity there. Who trusts a double agent?
    We benefitted from just such a double dealer back when we bought. The slickster agent divulged to me, over the phone, a first contact complete stranger, a number that the seller was prepared to accept. Saved us a nice little pile.
    Banning double agents will have little effect – the agent, ostensibly working for the seller, will just work in cahoots with a partner from the same brokerage – a good cop bad cop routine – one plays buyer’s agent; one plays seller’s agent. It’s a common routine.
    Like forcing police to wear dashcams and record every event, you could do the same for these bandits. CBC Marketplace did an episode with hidden cameras exposing agent trickery.
    The industry likes to make it sound like there are a few bad apples. The reality is that there is a tiny number of agents making ridiculous sums of money with the rest driving around like chickens with their heads cut off. So many – so unnecessary. Desperate. Will say and do anything to get a listing, or make a sale.

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,302 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles