Justin Fung: An open letter to those who play the race card in the Vancouver housing affordability debate

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      By Justin Fung

      As one of the resident Chinese-Canadians on the HALT team, I was particularly frustrated to see this misleading headline on the front page of the Vancouver Sun “Is Racism Part of the Issue? Of course it is.”

      Every time we make progress on trying to address housing affordability, we end up getting sidetracked and pulled back to square one with cries of racism. We've already seen Gregor Robertson and Bob Rennie do it once, calling out academically peer-reviewed research done by Andy Yan as being “racist”. Now it is Pete McMartin of the Vancouver Sun and Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight just days after Mike De Jong's foreign ownership "data" got debunked as being completely irrelevant.

      We're better than this and I know we are because I've seen and heard it myself. Whether it's fellow Canadians I've talked to in person or online via our Facebook page, the conversation has always been culturally respectful and one that makes me incredibly proud to be Canadian. If anything, it's the Pete McMartins and Bob Rennies of the world who would take advantage of our Canadian politeness and welcoming nature toward people of all races to suggest that racism is what fuels the Vancouver housing affordability discussion. Sure, actual racism does exist and I’ll be the first one to call it out when I see it, but the vast majority of Canadians who want a fair shot at an affordable roof over their heads simply don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

      It's never been about the Chinese people as a race, but the fact that money is flowing out of China and finding its way into Vancouver real estate.

      Let's take a look at some facts:

      1. China added 2 million new millionaires in 2014 alone

      2. China adds 1 new billionaire each week, outpacing even the United States

      3. US$1 trillion left China in 2015 and has continued on that pace for the first several months of 2016.

      4. China is continuing to take steps to unpeg the value of its currency as it vies to become a viable reserve currency. Unpegging will ultimately lower the value of the yuan

      Folks who have gotten rich in China over the past couple decades see that their money isn't going to be worth as much in the future and are getting it out as quickly as possible into assets in held in other currencies. With the Canadian dollar trading at $0.77 to the US dollar and down from par at 2012, it's no surprise that Vancouver looks like a relative bargain. With a trillion dollars leaving China each year, only a small portion of it landing in Vancouver can have a massive effect on our home prices if left unchecked.

      This has nothing to do with Chinese people as a race and everything to do with China as a rising economic superpower with its own set of growing pains. It has everything to do with the fact that our city is a globally attractive place for wealthy folks who have made their fortunes in China. The fire hose of foreign capital finding its way into the Vancouver real estate market is the real problem, pricing out anyone making a living locally. It lines the pockets of a select few in this town (namely property developers and realtors) while doing little for the vast majority of us struggling to pay rent and make ends meet or trying to get into the housing market.

      This isn't about how world-class this city is, its empty monster houses, the Ultra Rich Asian Girls of Vancouver, money laundering, immigration fraud, New Coast Realty, shadow flipping, or UBC students with $31-million Point Grey mansions. Sure, these are all interesting issues in their own right, but at the very core of the matter is the simple fact that Vancouver's housing prices are entirely out of the reach of someone earning an income locally in the city.

      It has everything to do with the corrupt and complicit politicians who serve the corrupt needs of a B.C. real estate industry whose continued success depends entirely on us turning a blind eye to the obvious problem. This corruption seeps into the media—newspapers and TV stations whose operating costs are paid for by advertising that is increasingly dependent on the real estate industry. Perhaps it’s no wonder that certain members of the media have a vested interest in seeing the race card getting played yet again.

      It’s almost as if those who would stand to lose the most in addressing the problem are the same ones crying racist. I’m just putting it out there. Here’s noted real estate industry PR man Bob Ransford and President/CEO of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) Anne McMullin jumping on the R train.

      Let's stop talking about racism in Vancouver real estate. It's distracting us from getting to solutions to making housing affordable for those of us who call this city home. It’s time we cut through the bullshit and hold our elected political leaders accountable for the mess they refuse to clean up.