Delay in foreign-buyers data leads NDP to accuse Liberals of playing politics with real estate

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      After more than two years of all but unanimous calls for the government to collect more information about who is buying residential real estate, the province finally announced it would do so last February.

      The first batch of data came on July 7 and revealed that during a 19-day period in June, 5.1 percent of sales in Metro Vancouver were to foreign nationals. Then, on July 25, a second round showed that from June 30 to July 14, foreign buyers accounted for 14.9 percent of deals across the region.

      The disparity left people anxious for the third parcel of information, which, based on the previous releases, was expected to come during the week of August 15. But the province will not release an update on the numbers until the final week of August or early September.

      A representative of the Ministry of Finance was not available for an interview. On July 28, Minister Mike de Jong said that going forward, the numbers would be updated monthly.

      In a telephone interview, NDP housing critic David Eby argued that the irregular releases and seemingly random date ranges suggest the B.C. Liberals are putting politics and policy ahead of information.

      “I am very skeptical about why this information is being delayed,” the Vancouver–Point Grey MLA told the Straight. “I don’t know what their motives are for delaying it, but I have little doubt that there is a political motive informing it.”

      As further evidence, Eby noted that a new 15-percent tax on residential sales to foreign nationals was announced on July 25, when only that first three-week set of data had been released.

      “There is a way to do data collection that provides useful information for forming policy,” he said. “And then there is a way to do data collection that informs a larger political strategy. And I think we’re in the latter.”

      The new tax was unexpected but proved popular with residents of the Metro Vancouver region, where the benchmark price of a single-family detached home increased by more than 70 percent over the last three years.

      Eby, who was pushing the government to act on housing long before it did, was however critical of the focus the province placed on nationality by releasing buyers data that highlights nationality and by implementing a tax on the basis of citizenship. Furthermore, he argued there are better ways to produce the policy effects that the region needs to restore affordability to the housing market.

      “Collecting data based on citizenship status is an artificial distinction when you are talking about what is happening in the real-estate market," Eby said. "That’s why I don’t like the citizenship measure, because it is also an arbitrary personal characteristic which has nothing to do with the activity of whether or not they are speculating in the real-estate market.”

      The NDP has argued in favour of a surtax on property taxes that would exempt Vancouver residents who pay income tax in B.C.

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