THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT

by Geoff Olson

For Sale: Vancouver City Hall. Cash only, please. No Questions asked. Condition: fair

Vancouver–the Cayman Islands of Real Estate! ™

The Government of British Columbia Inc. (“BC Gov Inc.”) is a leading real estate agency and owner of boutique development-region Greater Vancouver™. As the least scrupulous real estate agency in North America, we have a proven record of helping our clients–the global elite–diversify their portfolios and realize above-average return on investment through unfettered real estate speculation.

– anonymously written item on Vancouver Craigslist

——–
For some time, the media debate over Vancouver’s overheated real estate scene has resembled a seventies-era Sam Gross cartoon of three blind men examining an elephant.

“An elephant is like a rope,” says one holding the creature’s trunk. “An elephant is flat like a rug,” says another, feeling an ear. The third blind man squats behind the animal with his hands in a heap of droppings.“An elephant is soft and mushy,” he insists.

Only recently have local pundits felt the outlines of something truly elephantine in the local real estate market: foreign investment.

First there was the revelation that no official Canadian bodies track foreign investment in residential property, unlike other jurisdictions around the world. The cry is now for data. We must have more information to determine who’s buying what where! A worthy and necessary sentiment, if a little late in the game.

Yet a journalist who contributes to a newspaper on the opposite side of the world has supplied some figures pertinent to this issue. “Immigration data demonstrates that the influx of rich immigrants to Vancouver (80 per cent of them Chinese) is unmatched by any other city in the world, at least in terms of wealth-migration schemes that clearly define asset benchmarks,” notes Ian Young of The South China Morning Post.

Between 2005 and 2012, two federal programs, the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Program and the still-operative Quebec Immigrant Investor Program, allowed 45,000 millionaire migrants to arrive in Vancouver, Young observes. “Let’s put that in perspective. The entire United States only accepted 9,450 wealth migration applications in the same period under its famous EB-5 scheme, likely representing fewer than 30,000 individuals,” he writes.

Beijing is set to ease financial restrictions on the amount of money that can leave the country each year, which may amplify current trends in foreign wealth transfer to Vancouver.

91 per cent of Chinese Communist Central Committee members have relatives abroad, according to figures from the Chinese government itself. Canadian journalist Jonathan Manthorpe believes the elite and their families are pulling up stakes from Mainland China because of domestic environmental collapse and political instability. And why wouldn’t those with the means, motive, and moolah – from Beijing and beyond – target an ecological Oz where press and government alike have conducted public discussions about power and property in Braille?

Manthorpe notes the inhibiting influence of what he calls “the Komagata Maru syndrome,” the fear of being labelled a racist for singling out an ethnically identifiable group. For his part, Young argues the idea of foreign investors effecting Vancouver’s real estate market may technically be a myth, since “foreign” buyers often have “residency rights or dual citizenship in Canada, or are able to make their purchase via a suitably endowed proxy (ie: a spouse or child with residency).”

Yes, we certainly could use more data. We also need to have an adult conversation about affordability without bigotry, Ian Young observes. Because ultimately this isn’t about race, it’s about capital – massive amounts of it pouring in from outside Canada, which is distorting the local real estate market, compromising governance, and turning Vancouver’s much-vaunted “liveability” into a stand-up comic’s punchline.

And given the scale of the affordability problem, talk of taxing property flippers doesn’t even offer a band-aid solution. It’s more like a tongue depressor for a Millennial hemorrhage.

——
At BC Gov Inc., we believe that “Housing is for Hedge Funds,”™ not humans, and that “community” is merely a feel-good euphemism for “commodity.” By willfully neglecting our legal power to curb international real estate speculation in Vancouver, and by failing to prioritize Vancouver residents over international investors, we are actively pursuing our mandate to serve the global elite by “Selling out the Next Generation of British Columbians.”™
– from Vancouver Craigslist

The Vancouver Courier, June 24

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