Born in China, Joy Mo blames rich mainlanders for Vancouver’s housing woes
Joy Mo, a Vancouver-area resident since 2002, says it is time to do something about the rich mainland Chinese she believes have priced locals like her out of the property market.
She cannot understand why Canadian politicians do not recognise a problem she says is plain to see. “I’m quite disappointed,” says the mother of two daughters, aged five and eight. “This is a place for all of us and if you drive all the local buyers out of the market, what is the community going to be?”
Mo, 42, was also born in mainland China, but tells me she does not want to be “painted with the same brush” as the extremely wealthy migrants she partly blames for her family’s housing situation. She and her Canadian husband have been renting in the satellite city of Port Moody since they sold their last home in 2008, unable to find a way back into the region’s sky-high market.
She says non-resident buyers should be hit with higher property taxes, both to compel a greater contribution to society and to reduce their participation in an overpriced market. Housing prices in Vancouver are the least affordable in North America, and the second least affordable in the world behind Hong Kong, according to a Demographia study of 337 metropolitan markets.
Mo, a court translator, says that while she wants a serious debate about the negative impact of foreign buyers in Vancouver, it is unfair to blame all Chinese migrants.
“Most immigrants who came here before 2008 or 2007 were mostly independent immigrants who came here with certain technical backgrounds. They tried to find a job, settle themselves here. But after that, all of a sudden, there are a whole bunch of investor-category immigrants,” Mo says. “Those are the ones that have a lot of money. They are generally not working and they don’t really care about finding a job because they have a business back in China.”
Mo is referring to the thousands of millionaire investor-class migrants who have been allowed to simply buy their way into Canada by handing over C$800,000 in cash to the provincial government (the loan is returned, without interest, after five years). More mainland Chinese enter Canada under the controversial scheme than all other nationalities combined. In the past eight years, 24,265 out of a total 36,892 investor migrants who settled in BC were mainland Chinese.
Mo says she became aware of the extent of the problem as she mingled with fellow alumni of Shanghai Maritime University who had recently moved to Vancouver. “I went to their new homes and we talked about purchasing houses. I was shocked that they didn’t have to pay anything extra as international buyers. And they thought that the prices of these houses were quite cheap,” she said, referring to homes ranging up to C$2.4 million.
“I just gasped. These numbers are just nothing to them and I don’t understand why they don’t pay income tax and only pay the same property tax as everybody else. I don’t think it’s right. Our politicians overlooked this or don’t think that it’s a big deal…There’s a loophole here.”
By contrast, Mo and her sports journalist husband have struggled to find a suitable home, despite a C$650,000 budget and above-average incomes. “In the past two months, we put in two offers. Both were outbid. One, of course, was a Chinese buyer,” she says.
Although Mo is certain that foreign buyers are pushing up prices, proving it is made difficult by Canada’s failure to collect data on foreign ownership. Nevertheless, a 2011 regional study of luxury-home purchasing records by Datacorp found that 74 per cent of buyers had mainland-Chinese style names with no English or Cantonese-specific variants. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recently branded as “ridiculous” the notion that mainland buyers were pushing up property prices.
Mo, a Canadian citizen, says she struggles to restrain negative feelings to her rich mainland friends. “When I face them, I can’t say much,” she says. “But afterwards, I keep thinking, why do we allow them to do these things? Why not ask them to pay more property tax? It’s not a big deal for them.”
The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, Ian Young @ianjamesyoung70