By NG WENG HOONG, October 8 2015, Thursday

Every city has its own urban legend: Vancouver’s fantasy over the last few years is that it has the world’s second most unaffordable housing.

On the back of this piece of unchallenged, unverified scare story, Canadian opinion makers and media have been portraying a city pushed to breaking point by a runaway housing crisis caused mostly by wealthy migrants and corrupt Chinese officials fleeing to Vancouver with stolen money. A more twisted version paints Canadians of Chinese descent as Beijing’s pawns in a long-term chess game to take over Vancouver and its housing market. Either way, the city’s rising housing cost has become an issue in this year’s federal election with Chinese buyers firmly cast as the villain in profiteering at the expense of the city and its regular working people.

In fanning public anger against foreigners for Vancouver’s declining affordability, the Canadian media rarely mentions that the worrying trend of housing cost rising faster than incomes is also occurring in many major cities around the world.

A recent Gallup survey found that US home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years with the young less willing or able to take on a mortgage.

“For a younger generation that is struggling with student debt, renting a home may be an increasingly safe option. Non-homeowners’ expectations for buying a home in the near future appear to be waning, and the percentage who say they own their own home is the lowest in nearly 15 years,” said Gallup.

Citing an Urban Institute study, a CityLab report found that “every single county in America is facing an affordable housing crisis. From Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. From Jacksonville to Juneau. No matter where you look, there isn’t enough affordable housing.”

According to the Daily Mail, a generation of young Britons have given up hope of buying their own homes “amid high house prices and poor pay rises”. Only 20% of those now under the age of 35 now are expected to become property owners by 2020 while “first time buyers are struggling to find a house as the gap between the supply and demand for two-bedroom properties widens.”

“Less than 20% of young adults will own homes in 2020 if housing crisis goes unchecked,” says a Huffington Post story, which predicts that the number in UK’s 25-to-34-year-old cohort owning property will plunge by half.

Asia’s housing affordability crisis is looking a lot like the US bubble in the run-up to the 2008 crash, said The Washington Post.

“That’s because money poured into those countries in search of better returns right and…found its way into the property market,” it said referring to China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia where housing prices have outpaced wage growth.

Despite operating one of the world’s most successful public housing programmes the last few decades, Singapore is increasingly confronting a housing affordability challenge caused by rising home prices and slow wage growth.

“For millennials, the homeownership dream is dying,” said financial news site Zerohedge. “New graduates are having a difficult time finding jobs that are commensurate with their education.”

Around the world, housing costs in major cities are being pressured higher by the same combination of scarce land supply, income inequality, increasing urbanisation, local taxes and most importantly, the world’s major governments unleashing trillions of dollars into the global economy to stave off recession. The money-printing operations, also known as quantitative easing, undertaken by the US Federal Reserve Board and other central banks since 2008 have ended up inflating prices of coveted real estate in many international cities. A research paper published by the US Council of Foreign Relations in August 2014 described how “housing markets around the world, from Tel Aviv to Toronto, have overheated” as central banks have been lowering interest rates and “pumping trillions of dollars’ worth of new money into the financial system.”

But these major factors along with the role of investment funds and domestic buyers in driving up housing cost are seldom mentioned in the Canadian media given its obsession with Chinese buying of Vancouver’s real estate.

Demographia in Vancouver’s housing politics

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Vancouver’s blame-the-Chinese narrative is that commentators often start off with a reference to Demographia’s limited survey on housing affordability in nine countries. The illinois, US-based consultancy is owned and operated by conservative public policy consultant Wendell Cox who opposes urban densification and public transit in favour of sprawl and the use of private cars.

For the fourth consecutive year, Demographia’s 2015 annual survey of 378 cities in nine countries has dubiously rated Vancouver’s housing as the second least affordable after Hong Kong. Vancouver’s 10.6 unaffordability ratio is derived from dividing its median housing price of C$704,000 by the annual household income of C$66,400. According to the survey, Hongkong has the least affordable housing ratio of 17 (HK$4,892,000 / $287,000) while Ireland’s Limerick and four US cities have the most affordable ratio of 2.

Despite the political importance and implications of Demographia’s rating, none of Canada’s mainstream commentators, real estate experts and politicians have subject its data, research methods and survey sample to any serious analysis or questioning. This act of blind faith serves a useful purpose: the catchy conclusion that Vancouver is just behind Hongkong in housing unaffordability provides the perfect launchpad for alarmist reporting and commentaries.

The leading voices who treat the Demographia survey as gospel are focusing their interrogation efforts on British Columbia’s real estate industry, the provincial government and anyone who challenges their narrative that Chinese money is largely responsible for Vancouver’s rising housing cost and problems.

Ian Young, the award-winning Vancouver-based investigative journalist with Hongkong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP), recently tore into the British Columbia Real Estate Association’s analysis that said foreigners accounted for less than five percent of Greater Vancouver’s home ownership and sales .

While calling the BCREA finding “bogus”, Young, an influential voice in emphasising the Chinese impact on Vancouver’s housing market, reported the Demographia survey as covering “the world” in his stories on February 28, June 3 and September 10. This is wrong as Demographia clearly states it covers only the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hongkong, Singapore and Ireland, leaving out the other 184 countries on the United Nations’ list. This huge omission is crucial as some cities in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and possibly even Africa not covered by Demographia have arguably higher housing unaffordability than Vancouver.

Inexplicably, Canada’s mainstream media — Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail, The Province, Business In Vancouver, CTV, GlobalNews, Huffington Post, Ottawa Citizen — have all committed the same mistake as Young in misrepresenting Demographia’s nine countries as “the world”. None of the media told of their mistake has published corrections.

This begs an important question: If Vancouver was found to be more like 20th or 50th, rather than second, in a well-researched truly global list on unaffordable housing, would the city be deemed to be facing a “housing crisis”? Might a much lower unaffordability ranking take away the hysteria and alarmism sufficiently to shift the debate towards increasing the supply of affordable housing? Would Vancouverites invest as much energy looking for someone to blame if they are aware that residents in other major cities are having it worse?
Singapore, London and Chinese cities

Informed of his mistake, Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd, another leading voice in the blame-the-Chinese camp, has since amended his description of Vancouver to being “the second most unaffordable city in the English-speaking world” after Hongkong. This too is mistaken as London and Singapore, two global cities, are likely to have more unaffordable housing than Vancouver.

In building their crisis narrative, Todd and the rest commit the basic error of not examining and verifying the raw data on housing prices and median income that Demographia uses in computing its unaffordability ranking. In his May 22 comment, SCMP’s Ian Young wrote that Vancouver has left Singapore “in the dust in terms of unaffordability” based on the Demographia survey showing the Canadian city’s housing price/income ratio rising to more than double that of the Southeast Asian city state’s.

According to Demographia, Singapore, a global financial, trading, oil refining and shipping hub rated by the authoritative Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) as the world’s most expensive city, ranks a mere 89th, incredibly making its housing as affordable as laid-back Hamilton in Ontario.

“I seriously doubt that Hamilton is on par with Singapore. Housing in Hamilton is relatively cheap,” said Netina Tan, a political science associate professor at the Hamilton-based McMaster University, who has lived and worked in Singapore and Vancouver.

On Singapore’s 718-sq km plot, 5.5 million people live alongside one of the world’s most active financial centres, three world-class oil refineries, two major petrochemical complexes as well as several power plants, industrial parks, reservoirs and shipyards, and one of the world’s busiest seaports, making the tiny country’s land cost one of the highest in Asia. Large tracts are also taken up by the country’s powerful military along with airports and an extensive highway system.

In contrast, Hamilton’s 520,000 residents live on a sprawling 1,117 sq km city, with many single-family houses near the downtown core priced at between C$200,000 and C$300,000. An MLS listing for a “beautiful two-storey three-bed home (on a 2,460-sq ft lot), located in Great Central Hamilton, close to schools, shopping, hospital and highway access,” is available for C$269,900.

In Singapore, that would be the price of an ageing one-bedroom public housing apartment of about 700 sq ft in an outlying suburb, said Samantha Law, marketing director for Miracles Realty Group. (Current exchange rate C$1=S$1.07). A private apartment of the same size would cost between $500,000 and $800,000, while a larger unit of 1,000 sq ft would sell for at least S$1.2 million, she said in an interview in Singapore.

A small single-family house in the Singapore suburbs would cost between S$2 million and $3 million each, or 10 times the price of a large house in downtown Hamilton. A typical example is this terraced house on a 2,300-sq ft plot located at least 15 km from downtown Singapore, available for only S$2.5 million.

Demographia lists Hamilton’s median housing cost as C$344,200 and the median annual household income as C$69,200, giving the city an affordability ratio of five. This puts it on par with Singapore, which according to Demographia, has a median housing price of just S$405,000 and household income of S$80,500. While the income figure looks correct, the median housing cost is too low as the survey covers only government-subsidised public apartments built and sold by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), said Ms Law.

Demographia did not reply to a request for comment on its data and survey methods used in the computation of its housing affordability ranking. On its website, the consultancy cites the Singapore Real Estate Exchange (SRX) as the source of its Singapore housing price.

“I suspect they got our data from the HDB Flash Reports that we send out monthly. S$405,000 or thereabouts seem to be the median resale price number,” said Luqman Hakim A. Hadi, Head of Data at StreetSine Technology Group, which operates SRX.

This would explain the low median housing cost that Demographia’s uses for Singapore as it excludes prices of private apartments and single-family houses that are a significant component of the country’s real estate market. The inclusion of private apartments and houses would sharply raise Singapore’s median housing cost to put it well above Vancouver’s in the unaffordability ranking.

In separate interviews, both Law and Luqman (who said his company does not work with Demographia in producing the survey), expressed surprise that Singapore is rated so much more affordable than Vancouver and on par with Hamilton considering the relatively low prices of condominiums, townhouses and houses in both Canadian cities.

On average, Singapore’s private apartments cost between three and four times that of Vancouver’s. On September 22, six regular condominium units in the Draycott Drive area inside the Orchard Road commercial belt were put on sale on the www.PropertyGuru.com.sg site for between S$1,900 and S$2,200 per sq ft, translating to S$2.5 million and S$3.9 million each. On the same day, the www.MLS.ca site listed 59 two-bedroom condominium units in downtown Vancouver for sale at between C$500 and $700 per sq ft. They each cost between C$550,000 and C$750,000, prices that in Singapore would be deemed too low and therefore unavailable.

Most Singaporeans live in subsidised public housing apartments, which aren’t cheap either by Vancouver’s standard. In the central and well-served locations, resale public housing apartments with 70 years or less left on their 99-year land leases with no paid parking lots, storage lockers and exercise facilities, cost as much as Vancouver’s freehold downtown apartments. A 645-sq ft unit in Queen Street is on the market for S$468,000 while a larger 1,485-sq ft apartment in Everton Park is available for S$900,000. Both are located within or near Singapore’s central district.

Those looking for cheaper public housing in the affordable S$400,000 price range will have to live at least 15 km from the downtown area and rely on the relatively efficient but heavily congested public transportation system for a 45-to-60 minute commute to work. While most Vancouverites own a car and drive out of necessity, a private vehicle is a huge luxury for the average Singaporean. Due to the country’s high land cost, he would need to pay at least S$100,000, inclusive of a certificate of entitlement and taxes, to own a regular 1.6-litre-engine Japanese or Korean car. Fuel costs and road tolls add to Singapore’s high living cost: on September 22, a litre of regular gasoline costs S$2.05 compared with C$1.13 in Vancouver.

Demographia’s 10th spot ranking for London also needs scrutiny as it is based on a surprisingly low median housing price of £385,000 for the famously expensive UK capital. On September 20, the Daily Mail reported that the average London property costs £620,000.

Around 8.63 million people live on London’s 1,572-sq km plot, giving it a population density of nearly 5,500 people per sq km. This is more than six times greater than Metro Vancouver which has a population of over 2.5 million people living on a land area almost twice as large at 2,877 sq km. Further bolstering the value of London’s real estate, nearly twice as many overseas tourists visited the globally connected city as did Vancouver last year: 17.4 million vs 8.97 million.

The biggest surprise in the Demographia survey is the omission of mainland Chinese cities despite the company’s decision to cite The Economist magazine’s finding that at least five of them were more unaffordable than Vancouver. According to Demographia, The Economist gave Shenzhen a housing unaffordability ratio of 19.6, exceeding even Hongkong’s 17. Next came Beijing (15.6), Shanghai (12.8), Guangzhou (11.4) and Tianjin (11.2), underlining the position of Chinese cities as having the world’s least affordable housing. In reporting on the Demographia survey, the Canadian media made no mention of its reference to The Economist’s finding.

In 2013, when the Canadian media was trumpeting Vancouver’s second spot in the Demographia ranking, the US-based The Atlantic magazine reported that housing in seven Chinese cities were among the world’s 10 least affordable. Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it placed Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Tianjin in the top five of the world’s least affordable housing list, with Guangzhou in eighth and Chongqing 10th..

Vancouver did not even make the top 15, which went to Singapore.
Call for data: The search for solutions or scapegoats?

Victor Wong, the Executive Director at the Toronto-based Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), is an active participant in online discussions on Vancouver’s housing issues. He stakes out politically incorrect positions by challenging the prevailing narrative that Vancouver’s middle class faces a housing crisis, and agreeing with official findings that foreigners account for only a small percentage of real estate transactions and ownership.

Writing on the forum pages of mainstream news sites, he regularly pulls out listings and data from www.MLS.ca to prove his point that there’s ample supply of affordable houses, townhomes and apartments in metro Vancouver that are within reach of middle-income families.

It hardly surprises that his views are not welcomed or sought out by the Canadian mainstream media. Wong occasionally spars with Ian Young on the SCMP site, but the journalist has not interviewed him for any of his stories. For staking out a contrarian position, Wong is often flamed by other online participants who insinuate the Victoria, BC-born Canadian is either working for the real estate industry, or worse, the Chinese government.

“I disagree with the alarmist, racist coverage in the mainstream media. Why would they want to interview me? They’ve gone so deep in their narrative of widespread Chinese and foreign buying that they can’t back out now,” he said in a phone interview from his Toronto office.

 Commenting on a May 4 Vancouver Sun article calling for restrictions on foreign buyers to douse the city’s housing market, he wrote:

“A review of listings at www.MLS.ca shows that about FIFTY PERCENT of all homes for sale are priced under C$600,000 and about 12% – ONE IN EIGHT – are priced above C$2 million.”

He offers no sympathy for Eveline Xia’s populist “#DontHave1Million” complaint or Saeid Fard’s lament that young professionals have little hope of buying a single-family house in the city. A day after about 150 people attended Xia’s May 24 protest rally in downtown Vancouver, Wong wrote that “the same number of home buyers made deals on purchasing a home.”

Don’t have C$1 million?

“Actually, you need C$670,000 for the median priced home in Greater Vancouver. More than 70% of the houses listed at www.mls.ca are priced below C$1 million,” he wrote. On May 24, during the peak spring season, he found 5,779 listings of homes with two bedrooms and more priced between C$300,000 and C$1 million, including about 1,000 single detached homes in Vancouver and the suburbs.

Just over five month later, on September 27, the MLS site revealed there were still 2,360 listings of homes that met with that set of criteria. The vast majority were apartments, many between 900 and 1,000 sq ft in size that can accommodate a small family — common in many major cities around the world.

Wong urges young professionals to focus on townhomes and large apartments given the limited number of single-family houses on Vancouver’s finite geography.

“It’s no different from other major cities around the world. The expanding economy draws in more people, but land supply remains the same. There are only 75,000 detached homes in all of metro Vancouver, so prices will rise in response to demand,” he said. Vancouver and its suburbs are now home to a record 2.5 million people and still growing.

In making his point that affordable housing is very much alive in metro Vancouver, he highlights another shortcoming with the media’s use of the Demographia survey. It publishes a price that encompasses single-family houses, townhomes and apartments to represent Vancouver’s median housing cost. Exclude luxury homes costing at least C$3 million and single-family houses worth C$1.2 million or more, that median cost for housing drops significantly. Also, Demographia has shown an inconsistent methodology in its calculation of the median housing cost: in Singapore’s case, it uses only the prices of government-subsidised apartments and excludes the significant but expensive apartment and house markets, thus resulting in the country having an unrealistically low median housing price. This explains why Singapore ranks just 89th in Demographia’s housing unaffordability list, far below Vancouver’s second position behind Hongkong.

Wong said the mainstream media has been racialising the issue of rising cost for the purpose of blaming migrants, especially the Chinese, instead of finding solutions. He said the “real” housing crisis in Vancouver lies not with the middle class, but society’s lower rungs, which have long been plagued by the problem of homelessness and severe unaffordability.

“There are 10,000 on the waiting list for social housing and large groups of Vancouverites pay more than 30% of their income for rental housing,” he said, calling on governments at all levels to help finance co-op housing especially on state-owned land or through land swaps.

 His views overlap with two non-mainstream articles written separately in 2013 by Jim Sutherland and Nathan Crompton. Sutherland’s piece, “Vancouver: Not as Expensive as You Think”, in the Vancouver Magazine underlines the fact that Canada’s most expensive city for housing is less costly or unaffordable compared with many other cities around the world. Crompton, a left-wing writer and campaigner, denounces what he calls the media’s racist reporting in linking empty condominiums to foreign investors when, in fact, most are owned by locals.

“So why is the “foreigner thesis” so popular among Vancouver’s political elite? One answer is that it allows the government to get away with its anti-affordable housing policies,” wrote Crompton.
Many statistics and a few lies

Nevertheless, those campaigning against foreign investors in Vancouver’s real estate market have the upper hand in the PR battle. In June, 64% of respondents told an Angus Reid survey that they blame offshore money for the continuing rise in the city’s housing prices. Nearly 20% of them said they would leave Metro Vancouver to escape the “extreme housing and traffic pain”. Reflecting the mood of its respondents, Angus issued a shrill warning that the city could lose a generation of more than 150,000 families who would “simply leave in search of more manageable living.” The mainstream media has been providing the optics by highlighting a handful of high-profile Chinese buying of expensive homes to contrast with stories of young professional couples who said they are forced to flee as they cannot afford metro Vancouver’s $1.16 million single-family house.

The campaigners have recently shifted their focus to demand “real” data that they believe will prove their complaints and compel the government to act against foreign buyers. The political pressure has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce his government is investing C$500,000 to gather “comprehensive data” and study the impact of foreign investment in Canada’s real estate market. Earlier comments by the British Columbia government and reports by the BCREA and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC) to downplay the role and impact of offshore money in Vancouver’s real estate market were met with disbelief and anger. The media have poured scorn on the BCREA and CHMC reports, further fuelling suspicion that government agencies are working with the real estate industry to cover up the true extent of foreign ownership and offshore money in Vancouver’s real estate.

“If foreign speculators are driving the cost of housing to unaffordable levels, that is something the government can, and should, find a way to address,” Harper said. The announcement was cautiously welcomed as it raised the possibility that the data might lead Ottawa to “do something” to make Vancouver houses affordable. Online discussions have generated a number of options: reducing or capping in-bound migration, especially of the wealthy, placing curbs on foreign investment in Canadian real estate, and imposing new taxes on purchases by non-resident foreigners.

CCNC’s Wong said the problem with the “DontHave$1milion” and “We Want Data” movements is that they are narrowly motivated to prove foreign speculation is causing Vancouver’s housing problems and that young professionals are completely helpless to deal with rising prices. He emphasises that another set of data, widely available but ignored, shows there remains an ample supply of good affordable housing for middle-income families in metro Vancouver.

There has been little acknowledgement from the campaigners that first-time buyers could start off by buying townhomes (median price of $511,500) or apartments ($405,400) instead of reaching straight for that $1.5 million house in Vancouver. They also ignore the possibility that people can live and work in suburbs like Coquitlam, Surrey and Burnaby, located about 30 to 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver, where single-family houses are still available for C$400,000 to C$700,000.

Just as important, the populist narrative ignores Canada’s big-picture need for foreign trade, investment and talent to drive its mid-sized resource-dependent economy. In demonising Asian investors, the campaigners ignore the role of new migrants and business talents in helping Canada push into export markets in countries that it knows little about. Many new business migrants also bring in capital and their global network of contacts to help build Canada’s increasingly cash-strapped resource sector.

Contrary to the fears expressed in the Angus Reid survey that rising housing prices will force the young and educated out of Vancouver, Wong said the city’s population is growing as people are adapting and finding solutions, which include buying homes and living in places they can afford.

“People adapt far better than the media give them credit for. Professionals and tradespeople leave for different reasons. I work in Toronto, others work in LA, Hong Kong, or the oilfields but our home is Vancouver,” he said.

“We work elsewhere for career, income, change of scenery. But look at the data: there’s net in-migration to BC these past 12 months and net immigration is steady at 30,000 a year. It’s more accurate to say we are gaining people, not losing them.”

Metro Vancouver’s planners agree with Wong’s assessment. In planning for the region’s transportation needs, they are projecting the population to grow by another million people by 2041.

The worrying state of the Canadian economy amid the volatile global environment is keeping politicians from acting to cool Vancouver’s vibrant real estate market. In a June 5 statement, the BC Finance Ministry said any moves to drastically curb foreign investments could lead to wider negative repercussions that would result in the loss of C$350 million or 0.2% of the province’s GDP. It warned that roughly C$1 billion in residential real estate sales and around 3,800 jobs would be lost.

BC officials have good reason to fear, seeing how quickly the collapse of the oil, gas and commodity markets is crushing the once red-hot housing markets in Calgary and Fort McMurray. Foreign investors are fleeing or refusing to invest in Alberta — the same ones that only three years ago were attacked by some in the Canadian media and government for trying to invest in Canada’s oilsands reserves.

The China factor

Notwithstanding the current problems in most emerging economies, Canada needs to continue to grow trade with Asia and reduce its overwhelming dependence on the US, said Stewart Beck, President of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, in a recent interview. Canada’s trade with Asia has grown from C$86 billion in 2004 to over C$155 billion last year, with China accounting for half that share.

Migrants who set up businesses in Canada will hire Canadians and eventually settle down in Vancouver, contributing to the society and economy, said immigration and business consultant Ivy Liou. Their investments, which include purchase of housing as a long-term comitment to the country, have helped fund the development and upgrading of Vancouver’s impressive infrastructure over the past decade. But these contributions are rarely reported in the Canadian media and are thus not appreciated by many locals who only read about the migrants’ impact on real estate cost. The media reports only the pain, and not the gain, from the entry of Canada’s new migrants.

In a recent interview, Yuen Pau Woo, the CEO of HQ Vancouver, said the media should highlight the far more important contribution of foreign investments in creating employment and business opportunities for Canadians. Launched in February, HQ Vancouver is a partnership between the Business Council of B.C. (BCBC), and the BC and Federal governments to attract Asian companies to set up their head offices in Vancouver.

At a March 31 event to launch a book on China by former diplomat David Mulroney, Woo spoke of the need for Vancouver to boost income-generating activities and businesses to enable its residents to live and prosper in the city’s increasingly costly environment. His speech was not reported in the media, which focused instead on Mulroney’s political concerns with China and, of course, Chinese buying of Vancouver real estate.

But Woo followed up in September with a criticism of the Globe and Mail for publishing a centerspread feature on Chinese buyers of Vancouver mansions, while ignoring “the news about a similar set of Chinese immigrants who announced an investment of $200 million in a manufacturing facility in Surrey (F-Pacific Optical Inc.) and the establishment of a North American head office in Vancouver.”

“Why is the media more interested in the houses that these immigrants buy than in the job-creating investments that they make?,” he wrote in TheTyee.ca.

He called for “a stop to the insidious characterization of Chinese investors as villains in our affordability problems,” and for Vancouverites to “seize on the presence of so many well-heeled entrepreneur and investor immigrants…to attract new business capital to the province, create jobs and raise incomes.”

But his message still fell flat for some Canadians, who are stuck with the media’s negative potrayal of Asian investment in Vancouver’s housing market.

BD, an anonymous critic commenting on TheTyee site described Woo, a Malaysia-born Canadian, as “an Asian with investor relatives telling us to pay no attention to foreign investment”.

“Canada is supposed to be a country where people live in houses with yards, not morph into another 3rd world hell where everyone lives in a sterile white box in a tall building. No foreign ownership,” BD wrote.

The pervasive negative media reports may have led to at least two acts of hate crime in Nanaimo and Richmond targeted at Chinese housing investment. In Nanaimo, the RCMP is looking for the vandal or vandals who spray-painted anti-immigrant slurs on advertisements for Chinese real estate agents.

“The racist graffiti comes on the heels of racially charged pamphlets that blamed wealthy foreign investors for inflating real estate prices,” reported the Times Colonist.

Rightly or wrongly, Canadians’ growing anxiety over a looming China has become entangled with worries over Vancouver’s housing affordability, said Paul Evans, Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research.

“People are worried about Chinese investments swamping Canada, even though it’s less than 3% of total foreign investments in this country,” he said in an interview at his office. This figure does not include Chinese investment in Canada’s real estate.

“There is a general Canadian discomfort or anxiety about China. On specific issues depending on how it is played, you can have a firestorm.”

He supports the call for better data and analysis on foreign investments in Canada’s real estate.

“As unpopular as it might be in some quarters, as Canadians, we should start monitoring the flows and get the facts. We should have disclosure from investors, just as the Australians do,” he said.

“It’s because of the timing,” he said. Had this been implemented before Vancouver’s housing cost became political, the request for data disclosure would not have been an issue.

“We need smart and courageous politicians to do it now. I know a lot of politicians are running scared of this issue. At the city and, particularly, the provincial levels.”

“But as mature public policy, we just have to start monitoring who’s buying, who’s selling.”

The challenge for the Canadian government now is to implement detailed data collection and analysis without it appearing as a reflexive “anti-China, anti-Chinese act,” said Evans.

Hopefully, that’s one urban legend Vancouver will avoid being associated with.

-end-

One Pacific News Editor

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