Vancouver foreign ownership research prompts cries of racism in hot housing market

Urban planning researcher Andy Yan never expected to be accused of racism when he crunched the numbers on immigration and house prices on Vancouver's west side.

'The danger is intolerance, racism, singling out certain groups of people saying they're to blame'

Andy Yan, urban planning researcher and professor at UBC, never expected to be accused of racism when he revealed his findings on foreign ownership and house prices on Vancouver's West Side 2:10

Research that suggests foreign buyers from China are fuelling the rising price of housing in Vancouver is sparking cries of racism. 

Andy Yan, an urban planning researcher and adjunct professor at UBC, never expected to be accused of racism when he crunched the numbers on foreign ownership and house prices on Vancouver's west side. 

"It's not about the messenger, it's about the message," said Yan. 

Yan looked at 172 recent property sales over a six-month period in three of Vancouver's most expensive neighbourhoods to buy a home: West Point Grey, Dunbar and the University Endowment Lands. 

He found 66 per cent of owners had non-anglicized Chinese names, which he said implies they're new arrivals. 

He also found that 18 per cent of all homes in those neighbourhoods were purchased without a mortgage, meaning the buyers were rich enough to buy them outright. 

But Yan says the take-away from the study is that most of them, 82 per cent, did need a mortgage.

"I think it's surprising because it counters what people think, of [foreigners] showing up with suitcases of money being placed directly placed into Vancouver real estate," said Yan. 

'This can't be about race'

Urban planning consultant Bob Ransford said he's worried that analysing buyers by ethnicity and implying they're the cause of high housing costs is racist.

"The danger is intolerance, racism, singling out certain groups of people saying they're to blame for this," said Ransford. 

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said more needed to be done to address housing affordability than pitting people against each other.

"This can't be about race, it can't be about dividing people," said Robertson. "It needs to get to the core issue about addressing affordability and making sure it's fair."

Robertson and other elected officials have long demanded better data from the province, which doesn't keep information about foreign ownership. 

"We're told by the provincial government it's a very complicated issue, and we don't have the data, and there's not much the government can do about these issues,' said MLA David Eby, who helped Yan examine the files.

"All of that, I think, is untrue."

With files from Eric Rankin

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