February 15, 2018

"Kale in the Smoothies"~Duke of Data Andy Yan Interviewed on Who is Buying Vancouver Real Estate

What a difference a few years makes. Duke of Data Andy Yan was working with Bing Thom Architects in 2015 when he released his research on who was buying real estate in Vancouver. Andy researched the land titles and tracked the  purchasers who had “non-Anglicised Chinese names”. Tracking for a six month period from September 2014 to March 2015, Andy found that 75 per cent of all property transactions involved buyers with these non-Anglicised names, suggesting that those individuals  may be foreign buyers.
At the time, as Terry Glavin’s article in Macleans Magazine notes, this urban planner from East Vancouver was vilified as his work “broke a taboo that was enforced so absurdly that Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson resorted to dismissing Yan’s research as racist.”  Problem was that Andy Yan was right.  Banks were also complicit in the “manipulation of clandestine back channels around China’s currency control regulations—the same routes that well-connected Chinese multi-millionaires have been using to shift up to a trillion dollars’ worth of yuan out of China every year.” And a lot of these new home owners didn’t really have occupations, other than being  a homemaker.
Andy is also disarmingly in the moment and has an interesting way of using words. As he says “So you had these whispers about racism being used to shut down a dialogue about affordability and the kind of city we want to build here. It’s a kind of moral signalling to camouflage immoral actions. It’s opportunism, and it’s a cover for the tremendous injustices that are emerging in the City of Vancouver and across the region. It’s a weird Vancouver thing. It’s very annoying. It’s kale in the smoothies or something…I’m always careful about using biomedical analogies but what was like a little skin ailment, if you will, over the last 10 or 15 years, has become a full-fledged cancer… The top two expenditures of any Canadian household is shelter and transportation. God help you if you factor in child care.”
With Transparency International estimating that half of Vancouver’s most costly properties are owned by shell companies or trusts, another 20,000 homes sit vacant. Andy Yan also worries about Air BnB which takes up rental housing and is now going to be required to pay sales and municipal taxes.“That’s like taxing cigarettes to pay for lung cancer treatments.”
You can read the whole article here that also discusses the municipal and provincial involvement of real estate companies and property developers who benefited in the rise of real estate prices. Andy does make some recommendations such as taxes to stop property flipping and closing the bare trust loopholes that allow properties to be hidden in numbered companies, something Ontario squelched over thirty years ago. Now the Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, Andy Yan observes ““We need to go back to civic virtues.We need to talk about the sacrifices we are willing and we need to make for the greater good of the community. We need to have a discussion about what the public good is, and what we are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.”
Andy Yan image

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In a review of just released Statistics Canada data, Andy Yan, director of  the City Program at Simon Fraser University made a surprising discovery~Vancouver is becoming a city of the very rich and the disenfranchised poor. As reported by Joanne Lee-Young in the Vancouver Sun, “Vancouver outstripped the 10 most-populous “census metropolitan areas” in Canada for having the highest percentage (16.5) of residents living in low-incomes households.  Looking at median incomes Andy Yan ascertained the threshold for a two person household after tax as being an income below $31,301. In Vancouver 16.5 per cent of  households are low-income. “In comparison, Toronto had the second-highest percentage of residents living in low-income households (15.6 per cent), followed by Montreal (15.3), Winnipeg (15%) and Hamilton (13%).”
While some of the statistics may be due to underreporting of wealth from residents avoiding tax implications, Andy Yan points out that there are “anomalies” of low-income levels in areas with high house valuations. Andy Yan observes “What is the state of seniors and where are they concentrated? If you take a look at Chinatown and Gastown and the Downtown Eastside, where 71 per cent of seniors are living in low-income categories, you can ask, ‘How does this inform the fight for 105 Keefer?”  This development was originally  going to be 12 storeys and contain 106 condo units and 25 social housing units. (Local advocates felt the building was too high, out of context for Chinatown  and should have more social housing. The revised application is nine storeys with 111 condo units and no social housing.) Andy Yan’s statistics clearly show that seniors in this area have marginal incomes, and have a need for governmental social housing support.
The study also shows that there are areas of low-income people increasingly in the suburbs, and that these areas have higher poverty levels compared to the rest of Canada. In Richmond’s City Centre, over 35 per cent of  people were in a low-income household, compared to 40 per cent in the Downtown Eastside. Access to jobs by good transit could be a factor in this cluster, but the statistics inform government about the housing and affordability disparities that occur when the cost of living rises, but income stays the same.  As Andy Yan observes “Are these the beginnings of the bifurcation in Vancouver between the rich and poor? And how it’s on its way to being an exception in the world of real estate appreciation, but not an exception when it comes to levels of income equality in other cities in the world? This city has always been expensive, but the absurdities of the mismatch are growing.”

Source: Andy Yan SFU 


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