B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced plans Tuesday to start collecting data on foreign ownership in B.C.'s booming housing market.
Starting this summer, the province will force individuals buying property to disclose if they are citizens or permanent residents of Canada; if not, they will have to disclose their citizenship and country of residence.
De Jong unveiled the plans as part of the province's annual budget. The rules will also apply to individual transferees and directors of corporations involved in the purchase of property.
"What we are trying to do is respond to a concern that has been expressed and theories that have been developed around what accounts for admittedly a very, very, hot real estate market," he said.
"And the best way we can think of is to resume collecting information that at one time we did collect in B.C. and don't any longer."
'Drowning in high housing prices'
B.C. stopped collecting data specifically identifying foreign purchasers in 1998.
While de Jong said the government would starting compiling the information once again, he couldn't say what they would do with the data if it pointed to a problem.
Instead, he pointed to budget measures aimed at increasing the housing stock while improving affordability for people entering the housing market.
Effective immediately, the province is eliminating the property transfer tax on newly built homes priced up to $750,000. The $75 million tax relief is expected to be offset by an increase to the property transfer tax on the sale of homes above $2 million.
In announcing the plans, de Jong said the province didn't want to discourage foreign investment in B.C.
But the plans met with skepticism from Paul Kershaw, the University of B.C. professor who has become a spokesman for the so-called 'Generation Squeezed' — people in their 20s, 30s and 40s priced out of the housing market.
"We are drowning in high housing prices," Kershaw said. "The issue of housing is bigger than Point Grey and so is the problem."
Kershaw said the high cost of housing is becoming a problem province-wide, such that would-be homeowners now have to struggle for years to save up their down payments.
But De Jong pointed to statistics which show that 40 per cent of home sales in Greater Vancouver are still less than $400,000. And he suggested that affordable houses can still be found outside the Lower Mainland.
Regardless, he questioned the wisdom of attempts to cool down a hot market.
"If by 'cool' you mean actually reduce the value of people's major asset — their home — clearly we were not interested in that step," he said.