Talking about the housing market in Vancouver is about as much a pastime for us residents of Lotus Land as is yoga and running the Grouse Grind. In reality, it’s probably much, much more than that – it really, honestly seems like you can’t get out of even a casual conversation on an overcrowded Skytrain without someone grumbling about new record-high prices on the west side, or the new average cost of a Vancouver special.
“I so admire 95% of immigrants from China. I don’t admire the 5% or so who are just looking for a place to park their cash.”
But there’s something else going on as well. You can’t often get through a paragraph of a news story about the housing market in Vancouver without a discussion of a spectre haunting the region and the market – Asian buyers. It seems that everyone has concluded that there’s a problem with the housing market – good job, everyone – but they’ve also decided that the most proximate cause of the problem is people who just aren’t us. It’s the Other, again. Yellow peril.
C → M→ C / M → C → M’
I don’t think it’s the ethnicity of the people buying the housing in Vancouver that is the problem. Really, it’s the act of buying property in Vancouver that’s the problem, and what happens when homes are treated as commodities, or simply as means to an ends of increasing capital. I think it’s capitalism that’s at the heart of the issue in Vancouver housing. Not too sound too much like a rote Marxist, but it’s capitalism, dude.
I don’t think we need to go the route of centralized economic planning of housing, where everyone is assigned a housing allowance and the state provides. In fact, I really don’t think we should do that. But this no-holds-barred, free-market-capitalism approach to housing in Vancouver is ridiculous and absurd. And it’s creating these scenarios of obscene outcomes, like where the rental vacancy rate in Vancouver is nigh on to zero, or where rental rates are rising 4.6% in one year.
It’s getting to the point in Vancouver where credit unions are warning of impending labour market collapse in Vancouver because people can’t afford to live here anymore. I think many of us know this first-hand; a basement apartment in Vancouver is $1,200+; a nice 300-square foot apartment in downtown might be $1,750. Some city councillors seem to think this is just fine, suggesting that “affordable” means what you can afford.
But what causes this? I’m going to be bold and suggest that it’s not “The Chinese,” despite the commonality of that argument.