Has the housing debate in B.C. become overly obsessed on the role of foreign buyers in the market?
One of B.C.’s senators thinks so, launching into a tweet storm earlier this month accusing the “uncritical media” of fanning the flames on the issue and “scapegoating” foreign buyers.
Yuen Pau Woo argued that the heavy focus on the foreign buyer debate has itself been a cause of housing problems, sparking panic among local buyers, contributing to the fear of missing out and in the end driving up prices.
On Monday, Woo joined CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show to make his case.
“I’m interested in the facts and the evidence,” Woo said.
LISTEN: Talking to the B.C. senator who says that foreign buyers are not responsible for Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis
He pointed instead to studies by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Statistics Canada, which found foreign investment accounting for about 4.8 per cent of home ownership in Metro Vancouver.
Those studies, however, have been criticized by analysts such as Simon Fraser University’s Andy Yan, who said that figure failed to cover presales — and didn’t drill down into that data.
For example, Yan’s research found that about 19 per cent of all new condos under construction in 2016-2017 had gone to foreign buyers. He also found one in 10 condos worth more than $600,000 belonged to a non-resident.
Woo’s response? That analysis simply isn’t rigorous enough.
“I’d love to see a comprehensive study of the sort that meets the test of the StatsCan review. Secondly, when you refer to so-called foreign buyers, even in the StatsCan study, that includes Canadian citizens who are living overseas,” he said.
“All I’m saying is that we have to move away from anecdotal data.”
In that vein, Woo pointed to studies like the one conducted in 2015 by MacDonald Realty, which found Chinese nationals dominated the city’s high-end detached housing market, but drew its conclusions based on buyers’ non-anglicized Chinese names, not citizenship documents.
Woo argued that the debate over foreign buyers has instead become a coded debate over immigration.
He said often people say “foreign buyer” when they mean permanent resident, or even naturalized citizen who may be very wealthy.
“These are legitimate permanent residents and citizens of our country. The fact that they came with wealth, it’s not something that we should discriminate against,” he said.
“What would you suggest? Kick them out? Strip them of their citizenship? Are you saying they’re not legitimate citizens?”
LISTEN: What is your reaction to the Senator’s opinions about Vancouver’s housing market?
Woo agreed that revelations about Chinese money laundering in B.C. casinos and real estate call for a crackdown — but said anyone who thought that would solve affordability problems was “dreaming in technicolour.”
And while he acknowledged that there are some “true foreign buyers” who own a second or fourth home in Vancouver, he argued their role in the market is largely on the margins.
As such, responding to the crisis with tools like a stiffer foreign buyer tax or outright ban would be a mistake, he argued.
“All of this focus… is pushing our politicians to come up with kind of knee-jerk responses to target and attack foreign buyers,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s the solution, and we’ll be distracted from finding the real solutions.”