VANCOUVER: Eveline Xia, founder of the #DontHave1Million campaign for affordable housing, calling for more data on foreign investment
In absence of data, Chinese blamed and shamed for affordability crisis.
By Christopher Cheung, 7 Aug 2015, TheTyee.ca
Eveline Xia, founder of the #DontHave1Million campaign for affordable housing, speaks at a June 24 rally in downtown Vancouver calling for more data on foreign investment. Photo by David P. Ball.
On a cloudy afternoon in May, a few hundred peoplegathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery to raise awareness about the city’s notorious lack of affordable housing.
The movement began after Vancouver-raised Eveline Xia started the hashtag #DontHave1Million to rally local residents who believe rising rental rates and home prices are damaging the fabric of city life. Xia is 29, holds a master’s degree in environmental studies and, like many young professionals in the city, doesn’t have $1 million to afford an average Vancouver house.
“Housing is not like having a Ferrari. Housing is a necessity,” Xia said. “Not to say a house is a necessity, but appropriate, adequate housing is.”
At the edge of the crowd, Brad Saltzberg leaned against a fence. Saltzberg has some answers of his own to Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis: blame it on the Chinese. Over the past decade, newspapers have occasionally published Saltzberg’s comments on anti-immigration and what makes a Canadian (being of white, European descent, mainly). He was in the media more frequently this past year, campaigning against bus ads by a social services agency that posted its messages only in Chinese, not English. Saltzberg’s campaign led to their removal.
“I’m proud to say I’ve never believed in multiculturalism for even one minute of my life,” said Saltzberg in a July 2014 interview with the North Shore News.
But views like Saltzberg’s go unchecked in Vancouver’s highly racialized housing debate — one that blames real estate investors identified to have roots in mainland China for pushing the housing market out of reasonable reach. Stories of Chinese investorsbuying multiple luxury homes, and recent reports of fugitives “hiding” stolen money turn the heat up even higher.
Metro Vancouver’s ethnically Chinese residents are feeling that heat, including Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang.
Jang once received an email from a resident who claimed an empty house in his neighbourhood was probably owned by a foreign investor. When Jang investigated further, it turned out the house in question was his own, which he had moved out of at the time while it was being renovated.
Michael Goldberg, professor emeritus of UBC’s Sauder School of Business, did research on foreign investment at the time. In 1990, Vancouver’s top foreign investors were not from Hong Kong. They were revealed to be mostly American, British, Dutch, and then German, according to the Canadian Yearbook.
Cameron Muir, chief economist for the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA), finds one oft-quoted stat regarding Chinese ownership “amusing.”
Macdonald Realty, one of the province’s largest real estate companies, said that about one-third of its single-family home sales in Vancouver went to Chinese buyers, both recent immigrants and Canadian citizens of Chinese heritage. Muir said this statistic shouldn’t be surprising, considering Vancouver’s large Chinese population. The 2011 National Household Survey counted that approximately 29 per cent of Vancouver is ethnically Chinese.