Ethnic Chinese housing researcher defends work, as Vancouver’s white mayor cries 'racist'

Urban planner Andy Yan found that 66pc of all homes sold in expensive Vancouver neighbourhoods went to buyers with ‘non-Anglicised Chinese names’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 7:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 November, 2015, 1:33pm

A prominent ethnic Chinese urban researcher has defended his work against accusations of racism from Vancouver’s white mayor, after finding that two-thirds of all recent house buyers in some of the city’s most expensive neighbourhoods had “non-Anglicised Chinese names”.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that Chinese money may be fuelling the city’s soaring real estate market.

READ MORE: Why non-Anglicised Chinese names matter in Vancouver - no, it's not about race

Undertaken by Bing Thom Architects urban planner Andy Yan - who is acting director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program - the study also found that the most common declared occupation of buyers was housewife or homemaker.

I am curious about how the mayor defines racism

The average price of all 172 homes sold in the high-end neighbourhoods of Dunbar, West Point Grey and the University Endowment Lands, from August 2014 to February 2015, was C$3.05 million. Of these, 66 per cent of buyers had non-Anglicised Chinese full names, Yan’s study of sales data found.

Among the homes that sold for more than C$3million, 85 per cent (47 out of 55) went to buyers with non-Anglicised Chinese names.

Yan said the purpose of the study was not to definitively identify whether such buyers had mainland Chinese origins, or whether they had Canadian citizenship. Instead, the name-based methodology was used as an indicator of whether an ethnic Chinese buyer was a recent immigrant as opposed to being a long-term one or a Canadian by birth.  He wanted “to look at the possible indicators of ethnic patterns within the sales data set and the possibility of identifying the role of global capital particularly from migrants from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and global Chinese diaspora”.

“It is a primary assumption of this study that a non-Anglicised Chinese name may be an indication that an owner may be a recent immigrant to Canada and that an Anglicised Chinese name is an indication of a long-time immigrant or non-immigrant and/or multigenerational Canadian of sole or mixed ethnic Chinese ancestry,” Yan said. “[There] may be names missed for new immigrants who have Anglicised Chinese names and long-time immigrants or multi-generational Canadians with non-Anglicised Chinese names … but, with external reviews, this risk is minimal.”

The results of the study were splashed across the front pages of the city’s English and Chinese newspapers on Monday.

However, Mayor Gregor Robertson told local media of his worries about the study.

“I’m very concerned with the racist tones that are implied here, and we have to get away from that,” he told reporters. “We have to deal with this as a housing challenge we have.”

Yan said his name-based methodology, as a strong determinant of ethnicity and strongly suggestive of immigration status, was based on “accepted practices in the fields of epidemiology, demography, and political science”.

“I am curious about how the mayor defines racism,” said Yan.

He expressed doubts about the racist red flag that was sometimes waved when someone expressed concern about the role of foreign capital in Vancouver’s market.

“The fact of the matter is that a lot of them tend to be white, [and they are] using cries of racism in an attempt to shut down the discussion – a civilised, educated discussion – on real estate,” he said.

Yan said “transnational capital matters” to low-earning Vancouver, where the average price of a detached house in the broad metropolitan region stands at C$1.58 million.

He said the biggest surprise from his study was that 82 per cent of sales involved a mortgage, which highlighted the “enabling financial practices and structures in Canada”. Of these mortgages, more than half were held by two lenders: CIBC (28 per cent) and HSBC (25 per cent).

“That was the takeaway, that so much of this stuff is financed, so there is a logic and an infrastructure that creates the real estate market that we see in front of us,” he said.

“There are specific checkpoints, which you can measure, and at which you could make an intervention…if there is the political will, culture and vision.”

The South China Morning Post and the Globe and Mail have recently highlighted the role played by CIBC in supporting clients who break China’s cash-export laws, in order to buy homes in Vancouver.

The Demographia International Housing Affordability Study, which ranks the price-to-income ratio of 378 markets in nine countries around the world, ranks Vancouver the second-most-unaffordable, behind Hong Kong.

About 15 per cent of people in the city of Vancouver speak some form of Chinese, and 29 per cent are of Chinese ethnic origin; across the wider Vancouver metropolitan region, the latter figure drops to 19 per cent.