Vancouver’s proposed foreign buyer ban akin to Chinese head tax, says agent

As part of Vancouver’s 10-year housing strategy, a total prohibition on foreign buyers has been proposed—and one sales agent likens it to the Chinese head tax from the city’s not-too-distant past.

Susan Ninow, an associate broker and sales agent with Royal LePage West Side, says the term ‘foreign buyer’ is synonymous with ‘Chinese’ and that the proposal echoes a dark chapter in Vancouver’s history.

“I have lived in Vancouver since I was three and my grandfather paid the head tax,” said Ninow. “I’m Canadian first, Chinese second, and my grandfather went through a lot. I went through the racism of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. To prohibit foreign ownership, you are playing with free market forces and all three levels of government have always treated Vancouver real estate as a commodity. We welcomed the world through Expo ‘86, we welcomed the world through the Vancouver Olympics.”

At the risk of disqualifying itself when competing for foreign tech workers and entrepreneurs, Ninow says the CRA could take a harder look at speculative real estate and tax full income instead of capital gains. However, she believes that the proposed prohibition gives foreign speculators a face, and it’s invariably Chinese.

“They’re trying to put an evil face on one group. It’s a lot more complex than that, and, to me, it’s simply polarizing the population, meaning they’re trying to pit homeowners versus people who aren’t owners. We don’t have to say the word ‘Chinese,’ but in Vancouver that’s who the fingers point at. Being Chinese, they look at me and say ‘You’re one of those.’ But to bring in a full prohibition, are you bringing back the head tax?”

John Ly, a Sutton West Coast Realty sales agent, and 10-year veteran of the business, agrees with Ninow that an outright ban on foreign buyers cannot be good for the city long-term, however, he believes curbing the influx of foreign speculation is the right thing to do for the health and viability of a city that’s grown out of reach for the many. Additionally, Ly believes some stipulations should be attached to foreign purchases.

“They have to give something back in exchange,” said Ly, whose clients are over 90% domestic. “There definitely has to be some type of contribution. Restricting 100% ownership might hurt employment. Real estate is a driving factor in B.C. Trades, mortgage brokers, appraisers, stagers, furniture sales and retail, it goes down the line.

“The frustration is if you own a $5mln house here, and you send your kid to school here and benefit from everything like health care, but then declare you’re by the poverty line, I could see people getting frustrated about that. We have great public schools here and that’s a draw. There’s a good lifestyle and education here. Vancouver offers a lot but we need to get something from them as well.”


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