Number of 'poor' million-dollar homeowners unusually high in Vancouver: researcher
NDP MLA calls for immediate action based on Vancouver researcher's analysis of census data
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An unusually high number of Vancouver homeowners living in multi-million dollar neighbourhoods but reporting poverty-level incomes is a red flag that needs immediate government action, says NDP MLA David Eby.
“The focus should be quite straightforward: are you paying your worldwide taxes inside British Columbia, or not?” Eby, who represents Vancouver-Point Grey, told reporters during a July 15 press conference.
“If you’re not you should have to pay extra in order to pay for the public services that make this real estate so valuable: the environmental controls, the policing, the court system, the schools and the healthcare.”
Eby is basing his call to action on data analysis by Jens von Bergmann, a mathematician and owner of a data analytics firm who recently mapped home ownership to income levels. The exercise highlighted just how much Vancouver differs from other Canadian cities, he said.
“Census data all the way back to 2006 and 2011 shows that in Metro Vancouver and in particular in some of the inner Vancouver areas, the relationship that one usually sees between … the value of housing, and income and poverty levels, is quite different from other municipalities,” von Bergmann said.
To further narrow down the phenomenon, von Bergmann looked at only homeowners, removing all tenant households, and then did a separate analysis the included only the 18-64 age group because senior and child poverty can skew results for some areas. Each analysis revealed an unusually high number of households reporting incomes lower than would be required to cover their housing costs.
“[The phenomenon] is big enough that is in my opinion concerning and should be monitored to understand what is going on,” said von Bergmann.
Von Bergmann emphasized that his data should not be interpreted as showing that Vancouver is full of tax cheats, but it does warrant further study.
“I cannot say this is foreign money, and I cannot say this is moving the real estate market,” he further cautioned.
“I think it is important, in order to make good policy decisions, for the [B.C.] government to step forward and link real estate transaction data to tax data to get a much clearer picture of the size of this.”
The B.C. government recently began tracking the citizenship information for property purchasers, a move Eby had previously criticized as being voluntary and thus inaccurate. Eby now says that tracking citizenship is the wrong approach.
He outlined three actions he would like the B.C. government to take: appoint a task force of auditors and other experts to look into the low-income anomaly; pressure the federal government to hire more Canada Revenue Agency auditors; and pass “some form” of a proposal put forward by a group of Vancouver economists to levy a higher property tax on homeowners who do not make their income in Canada.
Work should be done to determine whether a substantial number of people are evading tax, as well as whether there are legal tax gaps that should be closed, Eby said.
B.C. legislators will soon head back to Victoria for a summer session of the legislature, where government will introduce a bill to enable the City of Vancouver to tax empty homes.