We seem to have missed this when it first came out in Seattle’s “The Stranger.” Fortunately, Durning picked it up.
Amos Latteier, a tech worker in Vancouver, British Columbia, is talking about what everyone in Vancouver can’t stop talking about: the city’s skyrocketing property values and its seemingly endless construction boom, where one luxury condo after another has been built, is being built, will be built.
It is a story that should now sound familiar to Seattleites.
“All property holders in Vancouver literally won the lottery,” Latteier says, sitting in a restaurant called Havana, with decor meant to reproduce the four-decade-long architectural decay that defines the Cuban capital. “This has created a huge divide between property owners and renters.” …
“It’s not just that you are locked out of the middle class, but it turns out that being a renter sucks in Vancouver,” Latteier says. “There are few renters’ rights. Evictions are common, and there is very little social awareness that this is a problem. I’ve had multiple property owners tell me that it’s not bad to be evicted: ‘Hey, change is good.'”
Latteier describes the general mentality of Vancouver’s landowners as that of resource extractors. They may be fine with paying extra money for fair-trade products in the grocery, but they are totally cold when it comes to the lives of their renters and making big deals on their properties. They want to get paid as much as possible and as soon as possible. And what’s of little or no consequence is how their rapacity might affect the city or the people who live in it. …
But how did the property market get so bad? Local market urbanists like Roger Valdez, the director of Smart Growth Seattle, and real-estate developers often place the blame on a lack of supply. Like San Francisco, the city is not building enough homes and apartments to meet demand. If the market becomes less restricted by rezoning certain sections of the city, it could meet this demand, prices would fall, and everyone (developers, the rich, the workers) would be happy.
The supply-and-demand model seems so reasonable, so logical, so rational. But the forces at work in Vancouver seem anything but that. Something totally insane and even monstrous is happening in this city.
In 2005, according to Yan’s research, around the time Vancouver’s housing market started heating up, just 19 percent of single-family homes were worth C$1 million or more in Greater Vancouver. Ten years later, 91 percent of single-family homes are worth more than that.
Yan’s research shows Vancouver’s real-estate market has growth rates far beyond what is normal. …
Vancouver is not unique. It is only exceptional in the speed at which it has been transformed. Vancouver is the neoliberal city we are all structured to become.
What is the solution? How can Seattle avoid the same fate? Kerry Gold recommends muscular regulation by the government of the real-estate market. She says that Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, has, though belatedly, begun moving in this direction. Clark and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, recently proposed taxing vacant apartments. And in late July, she surprised everyone by imposing a 15 percent tax on foreign home-buyers (the tax does not apply to immigrant residents).
Lastly, Gold thinks there should be much higher taxes on international capital flows, transactions, and events—a recommendation most likely to be efficacious. Without capital controls, all is lost in our globalized world. Why? Because if capital can go where it pleases, leave when it pleases, it can and will evade democratic accountability.