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Non-residents own 10% of Vancouver condos as foreign-buyer debate continues

B.C. Green Party is proposing a ban on foreign-buyers but some are critical of the idea

Condos in Vancouver's Yaletown neighborhood on September 8, 2016.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Condos in Vancouver's Yaletown neighborhood on September 8, 2016.

People who do not live in Canada own 10 per cent of condos in the City of Vancouver, according to data released from SFU Wednesday.

Statistics Canada put out a release in December that showed five per cent of homes in Metro Vancouver are owned by someone who does not live in Canada. But that doesn’t represent the reality locals have to live with, said Andy Yan, director of SFU’s City Program.

“That was the view from Ottawa. This is the view from the ground.”

Yan analyzed the census data and parsed it down by municipality, housing-type, and value.

For Vancouver condos worth over $1.5 million – which can buy you a three-bedroom condo in some parts of the city – the percentage owned by non-residents jumps to 19 per cent, according to his findings. About five per cent of single-family houses in Vancouver are owned by non-residents.

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It demonstrates the struggle many families in the Lower Mainland have when trying to find affordable housing and the need for better policy, he said.

“It comes down to a question of fairness. As people struggle with keeping their existing home or even having a home in Metro Vancouver, is it fair to treat them in the same way as someone who has a secondary or tertiary home here?”

The B.C. Green party is proposing a ban on foreign buyers altogether in order to improve housing affordability in the province.

“Enough is enough,” said party leader Andrew Weaver.

“We are delighted for people to come and work and live and own property in B.C. but it’s not okay for people to park capital here with no intention of living here.”

He says anyone who does not live in B.C. should not be able to buy property – but that they should be allowed to invest and therefore help build new housing. Even Canadians who live and work elsewhere in the world would be included in this category, he confirmed. New Zealand introduced a similar policy in fall 2017.

The foreign buyer ban is one of several affordable-housing policies the Green Party plans to propose in the coming days, according to Weaver.

The B.C. NDP government has said it does not plan to include a foreign buyer ban in the February budget.

Currently, people who do not hold Canadian citizenship or permanent residency are required to pay an additional 15 per cent tax on real estate purchases.

But at least one academic says banning people from buying property based on where they live is not an effective way to tackle high housing prices.

“I think we should target speculation. I’m not sure what targeting foreignness does for us,” said Nathanael Lauster, a demographer and housing expert at UBC.

Lauster pointed out that according to the 2016 census, one in five Vancouverites own a second property and a policy on foreign buyers would do little to address that.

He suggests raising property taxes instead. It would make buying real estate for speculation purposes less attractive without targetting people based on where they live, he explained. Other housing experts like UBC business professor Tom Davidoff have also advocated for increased property taxes in the name of housing affordability.

“This is part of the problem on focusing so much on foreignness – it’s a really flexible term,” said Lauster.

“It sometimes gets applied to legal immigrants who are going through the process [of obtaining citizenship]. It gets applied to the look of people who are in the line-up to buy real estate. That’s when foreignness crosses the line into racism.”

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