Stephen Colbert records an episode of his U.S. comedy show from Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics

Stephen Colbert records an episode of his U.S. comedy show from Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics

BC VIEWS: Housing ‘crisis’ decades in the making

Expo 86, and later the Vancouver Olympics, were designed to put B.C. and Vancouver on the world map

With a bit of grumbling behind the scenes, our 85 MLAs have trekked back to Victoria this week to deal with an emergency summer legislature sitting.

The stated purpose of this brief session is to comply with a demand from Vancouver city council for the ability to impose additional property tax on vacant residential properties.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, a former NDP MLA who likes to direct provincial affairs when he isn’t issuing instructions to Ottawa on pipeline policy, should be careful what he wishes for. B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong was happy to drop this hot potato in his lap, and now Vancouver city hall can try to determine who’s vacationing for a few months and who’s holding an investment property while living somewhere else.

When NDP leader John Horgan began calling for a “speculation tax” of 1.5 per cent on “offshore” investments, de Jong cited a Vancouver survey that showed the number of vacant properties in the city was declining, even as prices were climbing rapidly.

Horgan argues that Metro Vancouver is in the grip of a housing “bubble” that must be caused by foreign money.

“If wages have been stagnant for a decade, which they have, where is the revenue coming from to inflate these prices?” Horgan said last week. “It’s coming from somewhere else. And that’s not sustainable over the long term.”

Another point likely to be made repeatedly this week is that the province stopped collecting citizenship and residency data on real estate purchases back in the late 1990s. De Jong changed that this spring and with great fanfare rolled out the first three weeks of sales data from June.

They showed that only three per cent of purchases of B.C. residential real estate were from foreign buyers, mostly from China. They were concentrated in Metro Vancouver, and accounted for about five per cent of the total value, which suggests they were for higher-end properties.

This was assailed from all sides. Not a big enough sample size, doesn’t prove anything, etc.

(De Jong abruptly announced on Monday that they were imposing a 15 per cent additional property transfer tax on foreign buyers. On Tuesday he released another few weeks of foreign buyer data.)

We have one of those situations I call coffee shop consensus. Everybody “knows” it’s Chinese money pouring into B.C., and that many homes are being left empty, even if the actual evidence doesn’t show that.

Seattle has a similar problem with real estate in choice locations, by the way. Down there, the coffee shop consensus seems to be that it’s those darn San Francisco and Silicon Valley grillionaires who are driving up prices beyond the reach of working folks.

Blaming foreigners is a great narrative. We saw the same thing with B.C. campgrounds. Utter nonsense, but it has “truthiness,” as U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert says. Truthiness comes from the gut, not the brain.

In a recent radio interview with CKNW’s combative talk show host John McComb, de Jong put forward another theory. He mentioned that the aim of hosting Expo 86 and the 2010 Winter Olympics was to put Vancouver on the global map, and it seems to have worked.

Whistler has worked as a world destination too, as galling as it may be to those who insist these were all costly failures.

The real estate boom has had ripple effects in Victoria and other urban centres, with bidding wars for choice homes.

And it’s beginning to reverse a long trend of depopulation from small communities and rural areas, as people are forced to look for something they can afford.

And it’s produced an urban building boom, including the rental market. There are worse problems to have.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two women walk past ‘The Meeting’ sculptures in White Rock’s Miramar Plaza Wednesday afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
New public art in White Rock draws criticism as the ‘two Michaels’ remain in China’s custody

‘I would encourage people to go out and enjoy it’ said Vancouver Biennale founder

Surrey School District building. (File photo)
‘We’re in a financial lockdown’: Surrey school district working with $40M budget deficit

District, board points to lack of immigration for new student enrolment

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including South Surrey’s Pacific Highway should ‘not be left behind’

Surrey-raised Tetsuro Shigematsu wrote and stars in “1 Hour Photo,” a Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre’s production to be presented online by Surrey Civic Theatres on April 23-24. (submitted photo/Raymond Shum)
‘This Japanese kid who grew up in Whalley’ thrilled to return with acclaimed ‘1 Hour Photo’

City’s Digital Stage to show Tetsuro Shigematsu’s solo portrait of Mas Yamamoto

Fish processing workers fillet farm-raised salmon in Surrey B.C. Photo courtesy BCSFA
Discovery Islands salmon farm removal impacts jobs in B.C.’s Lower Mainland: report

The City of Surrey is the hub of the salmon farming industry in Metro Vancouver

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Most Read