Governments must clamp down on foreign buyers

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Allen Garr
Van. Courier

If you consider the undeniable social and economic benefits of affordable housing and the resulting stability and health it provides a community such as ours, you must wonder why we allow this precious commodity to be sold to people who have no intention of living here.

The real estate gold rush we are witnessing, driven by overseas money flooding into this market, looking for nothing more than a safe haven to store capital and generate a return, has managed to help fill provincial and federal coffers through a variety of taxes.

That would explain why both Ottawa and Victoria are reluctant to do anything to slow the revenue flow. The most recent Federal Labour Market Bulletin points out that B.C. continues to lead the economy nationwide in no small part because of “rising housing valuations in the Lower Mainland (particularly in Metro Vancouver.)” The tear-downs and rebuilds are creating a high demand for construction workers, workers that most likely can’t afford to buy the houses and condos they are building.

If your Canadian Charter of Rights is supposed to guarantee “the security of the person,” imagine the insecurity tens of thousands in Canada are feeling when they are unable to find stable, affordable housing; when they are forced to leave the city where their grandparents and parents grew up so they can find an affordable place to live and work.

Imagine if we treated our health care system the way we treat housing. Imagine if it just became a case of the global market place setting the price for services. Anyone with enough money could come here and fill our hospital beds and operating rooms to the point where you and I no longer could afford access because we would be paying the same price as the medical tourists.

Imagine if we did the same with our education system so that B.C. residents no longer got a better deal on university tuition, that public school up to Grade 12 was no longer free but our children were charged the same fees as overseas students. Nuts, eh?

The issue of affordability is not one that just affects the marginal folks in our community. Monday’s Globe and Mail had a story of universities in Canada’s major cities unable to attract new faculty because of the high cost of housing.

We are then given an example of the University of British Columbia, ironically cutting its own throat on this question of affordability.

According to a survey of the university’s deans, last year UBC missed out on hiring 18 people who turned down the work because of housing costs. At the same time it is losing academic talent, UBC is making money hand over fist by selling condos that have been built on its endowment lands to customers overseas and here.

Christopher Rae, an associate professor of modern Chinese literature, says for years the university has been discussing the housing cost dilemma as it relates to attracting faculty. But he told me that when he last visited the cities of Hong Kong and Taipei to attend conferences, he saw Chinese language ads pop up when he searched UBC related websites; they offered UBC condos for sale, condos neither he nor his colleagues can afford. So, he wonders, “Should UBC be leasing its land for hundreds of years to the open market and mostly to the global rich?”

He also said UBC is not the only developer selling to foreign markets. In Taipei he saw a 20-storey-high billboard offering condos in the new and exclusive “Vancouver House” at Howe Street and Beach Avenue.

Universities are not alone in facing the issue of affordability in attracting talent. In an article in the Financial Post, Hootsuite CEO and global software superstar Ryan Holmes explained that he is running into the same problem.

Holmes predicts without affordable housing, Vancouver risks becoming an “economic ghost town” because “the creative capital Vancouver has accumulated for generations is being drained due to an unaffordable housing market.”

So you tell me: Why are we selling our housing to foreigners who treat our city as a safe investment that offers a great return but not a place to live? It can be stopped. It just takes political will. And we would be better for it.

© 2016 Vancouver Courier

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