Premier Christy Clark says the agency that manages and administers subsidized housing in British Columbia is studying the level of foreign investment in the real-estate market.

Housing affordability is a hot topic in Vancouver, where the rental-vacancy rate is below one per cent and the average price of a home on the west side is now more than $2.5 million.

But just how much of a role foreign investment plays in the market remains debatable, although a Finance Ministry analysis last June concluded less than five per cent of home sales in Metro Vancouver involved foreign buyers.

Clark says B.C. Housing has been studying the issue for more than a year but will need the help of the federal government to fully understand the data.

She says the provincial government will also include initiatives in this month's budget to help it determine if non-citizen buyers have an impact on the property market.

Clark says the government needs to understand the issue before it can find solutions, and she is also asking people not to vilify non-residents who buy homes in the Vancouver area.

"I think with more data, we'll be able to get a grasp on how to address it better because affordability, especially in the city of Vancouver, less so in the suburbs but certainly there as well, is a real issue and we have to find ways to address it," she said Monday.

Foregone conclusion?

MLA David Eby, the housing critic for the B.C, NDP, says the province's announcement about the study came as a surprise.

He pointed out Clark has already ruled out a tax increase on foreign homebuyers in Metro Vancouver. She has also ruled out foreign investors as the cause of the Lower Mainland's skyrocketing housing prices, saying domestic buyers were more likely to blame.  

Eby said research conducted by a party that has already decided what the conclusion will be isn't likely to be accurate. 

"I don't understand why they would pay for this research to be done when there are researchers at SFU, at UBC who would love access to this data and would love to do this research for free as part of their academic work," he said.

"The only reason you would pay someone to do it is to maintain control over the results." 

Another concern for Eby came in an email sent to him from B.C. Housing, which stated, "It is premature to say if the research will be made public."

"If B.C. Housing is, in fact, doing this research, it shouldn't be secret — it should be fully transparent ," said Eby.

With files from the CBC's Deborah Goble