Soaring Vancouver Home Prices Spur Anger Toward Foreign Buyers

Julie Gordon, Reuters, July 9, 2015

After years of watching Vancouver housing prices climb, driven in part by Chinese investment, Eveline Xia came to a painful realization: Despite having a Master’s degree and solid career prospects, she might never be able to afford a home in the city where she grew up.

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That anger has contributed to a simmering xenophobia in Vancouver, a multicultural coastal city long known for its inclusiveness. With virtually no official data on foreign buyers available, many of those squeezed out of the market are left to believe the worst.

That has residents like Xia pressing the government to track international buyers, scrutinize the source of their funds and tax property speculation, before the anti-Chinese sentiment gets out of hand.

Last summer, a small anti-immigration group covered up Chinese symbols on real estate signs in the affluent suburb of West Vancouver with stickers reading “Please Respect Canada’s Official Languages.”

And police are investigating incidents on neighboring Vancouver Island, where anti-Chinese pamphlets appeared in affluent neighborhoods and signs for Chinese real estate agents were defaced with racial epithets and messages like “Go home” and “Not welcome”.

A recent poll found that two-thirds of metropolitan Vancouver residents believe “foreigners investing” is a main cause of high housing costs, and 70 percent said the government should work to improve affordability.

In the last five years, the median selling price for residential properties in Vancouver has jumped 57 percent to C$1.1 million, according to data compiled by Reuters from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. The price of detached homes has soared 82 percent, to C$2.1 million. The median household income, meanwhile, has risen by an estimated 13 percent in the same period, according to Statistic Canada.

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In interviews, five real estate agents who primarily sell homes on Vancouver’s exclusive west side estimated that between 50 percent and 80 percent of their clients have financial ties to mainland China.

A Reuters survey of 50 land titles for detached Vancouver Westside homes that sold for more than C$2 million in the last year found that nearly half of the purchasers had surnames typical of mainland China, as distinct from those of earlier waves of immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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“The reason why we’re seeing this racialized narrative is people are looking for a scapegoat,” said Victor Wong, the Toronto-based executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council.

“It’s infected the population,” he added. “People have bought into this narrative that there’s a flood of foreign money into the market when there’s just no evidence beyond a few anecdotes.”

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