Mind the Gap

Vancouver’s ‘snitch-on-the-Chinese-owner’ tax will divide the community

With average house prices in metro-Vancouver US$2.27m, the authorities have introduced a empty homes tax, which is proving highly contentious

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:26am

I’m not a racist. But, I love racist jokes and wading into racist controversy. And few topics are riddled with as much hypocrisy and laughable racism than blaming the housing crisis in Vancouver on a mainland Chinese invasion.

It will become the first city in Canada, and one of only a few in the world (like Jerusalem), to charge an empty homes tax. It’s the self-righteous Canadian way of trying to reduce speculative investment and to increase rental stock back.

Unfortunately the City of Vancouver is trying to impose a 2 per cent tax on the assessed value of empty homes with no evidence that empty homes are part of the housing problem.

Although the average selling price in metro-Vancouver is almost C$3 million (US$2.27m), it is unlikely that this policy will help. It is an unsustainable and poorly conceived tax whose underlying motivations are racist.

It is unlikely this policy will help. It is an unsustainable and poorly conceived tax whose underlying motivations are racist

In an earlier column, I wrote about creeping anti-Chinese legislation that was the 21st century version of the “Chinese Head Tax.” And I was roundly attacked. But, even white newspaper columnists in Vancouver are calling out the racism.

The Vancouver Sun’s columnist Pete McMartin wrote in July: “Is racism part of the housing issue? Of course it is.

“It’s not a vacancy tax they want, or a tax on foreign ownership, neither of which would do much to cool the market, anyway. They want to rewrite the rules of immigration and tax law, and close the door. (Or as they put it: It’s Chinese money, not Chinese immigrants, that has created this market. Which makes me wonder exactly how they would go about separating the two.) Is that racist?”

The Vancouver media so desperately peddles this century’s version of yellow peril. The pernicious complaints are that the new mainland Chinese immigrants are not in Vancouver to make a life, but rather park money in a pristine city and that they don’t partake in greater Canadian society.

Canadian media has been dying to find data that supports their thesis that mainland Chinese are responsible for buying most of the detached homes in Vancouver. But, so far none has surfaced.

There are so many people writing and blogging about mainlanders. Sadly, overall coverage has been ignorant, speculative and dehumanising. Riddled with superficial observations and clichés like they’re outright criminals or money launderers.

But this can be said about each generation’s new immigrant group who initially prefer to socialise among themselves until they become comfortable with surrounding society.

According to City of Vancouver studies, the current rental vacancy rate in Vancouver is below one per cent. A city commissioned report in March estimated there are 10,800 homes and condos sitting empty in Vancouver. The rate of empty homes has remained flat over the past 14 years it is in line with other Canadian cities. It’s thought that a high percentage of the homes that do remain empty are owned by foreign investors who do not live in or rent the units.

Actually the tax should be called “snitch-on-the-Chinese-owner” of what looks like an empty residence. It will divide the community. It will feed the stereotype that a new wave of Ferrari driving, dishonest, money laundering mainlanders that are supposedly depriving Canadians of homes. Like the rest of the world, Vancouver will have to adapt to Chinese capital not the other way around.