British Columbia·Point of View

Blaming Vancouver's affordability crisis on foreigners 'a red herring,' says UBC prof

For CBC's new podcast, SOLD! UBC historian Henry Yu gives his thoughts on how race and immigration play into the current debate on housing affordability.

UBC historian Henry Yu has spent decades studying race and immigration

A UBC historian says all homeowners need to look at how their choices may affect housing affordability in B.C. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

University of British Columbia historian Henry Yu has spent decades studying race, immigration and Asian Canadian history.

In the ongoing debates about housing affordability in B.C., all of those threads come together — sometimes in emotionally charged ways.

Some in the Chinese Canadian community have said they feel unfairly targeted as the root of the problem of housing affordability.

Yu gave his thoughts on how race and immigration play into the situation for CBC's new podcast, SOLD!

    Blaming foreigners a 'red herring'

    "Blaming foreigners, blaming the Chinese is actually a red herring. It misleads us to think that if we just stopped [the] Chinese from coming, if we stop them from buying, or we made it more expensive for them to buy, we'd be all OK. It's like, actually, you're trying to solve the wrong problem. If you've got a problem with people from mainland China ... maybe you don't like the way they act. Maybe you'd prefer that they not be rich, and you're resentful. 

    "Your kids aren't going to be able to afford a house based on what we do to mainland Chinese. And that's a long history, again of scapegoating and of blaming non-white people from Asia."

    On the responsibility homeowners bear

    "I'm not saying let's get rid of all the rich people and let's get rid of everyone who owns a house — I own a place — so, you know, am I part of the problem? Yeah. Because we have to ask ourselves as a society where should we be making our money.

    "If you say the primary way we're going to generate wealth in this place is through real estate, then you're going to price your kids out of it. And whose fault is that? Well, all of our faults who are owners."

    What Asia can teach Vancouver about affordability

    People think of Hong Kong as the most rapacious capitalist city in the world, right? And yet they house nearly half their population in publicly subsidized housing. Because they have to.

    "Yes, there's capitalism at its most naked in a place like Hong Kong and Singapore, and yet both of those places have found ways to capture the wealth made from speculating on the land aspect on real estate and redistributing it to those who really aren't going to ever be able to benefit from that."

    If you are interested in housing affordability, check out CBC's new podcast, SOLD! Host Stephen Quinn explores how foreign investment in real estate divides community, class and culture. Find it at CBC Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.