Feedback received by the City of Vancouver reveals anti-Asian racism persists in real-estate debate

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      The City of Vancouver is receiving a lot of correspondence from citizens on the subjects of housing affordability and what role foreign money is playing in the market, a freedom-of-information request reveals. And some of it is explicitly racist.

      “I am disgusted that all of the BC and Lower Mainland especially is being sold out to Asians,” reads a letter sent last May. “The Kerrisdale/Dunbar/UBC area is like being in the Orient….Even Abbotsford is now being sold out to Asians. The majority don’t give a hoot about Canada, don’t assimilate, don’t look after their property, and many don’t even pay income taxes.”

      “Vancouver was a lovely city in which to live and grow up in however, it is not nice anymore,” reads an email the city received in April 2016. “This is due to all the Asians who have moved there.”

      “Asians are pricing all white people out of the housing market in the Lower Mainland & it must be stopped,” reads another email received last May. “The Asians do not pay taxes here as they do not work here and are just using benefits of Canada and not contributing nothing to Canada.”

      The Georgia Straight initially requested one year’s worth of feedback received by the city, but was informed that this would result in a hefty fee. The request was, therefore, limited in scope in order to minimize processing costs. In the end, the city supplied five weeks’ worth of correspondence, a response that still consisted of 349 pages.

      The letters from citizens are largely civil, relaying heartfelt concerns for housing affordability. Many describe personal struggles in detail. But the response package also includes emails like those quoted above.

      In a telephone interview with the Straight, Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang, a Canadian-born politician of Chinese descent, said he wasn’t surprised by the tones of those letters.

      “I’ve heard those types of comments for so much of my life,” he explained. “It isn’t anything new. What saddens me is [that] those comments from the 1960s and ’50s haven’t changed….We—as a city, as a province, as a country—have not really moved beyond that.”

      Today, the belief that money from Mainland China is flooding Vancouver’s real-estate market is so entrenched that in July the provincial government caved to public pressure and implemented a 15 percent tax on residential real-estate sales to foreign nationals. Even still, calls continue for a moratorium or even an outright ban on sales to foreign buyers.

      Through July 2016, the Straight published a series of articles that highlighted concerns expressed by members of Vancouver's various Asian Canadian communities. Those individuals reported a backlash from so much attention on foreign buyers and a growing feeling of racism in Vancouver.

      Before that, in November, the city's mayor felt the need to weigh in and encourage sensitivity in discussions on the subject.

      “What we don't need...is the blaming of any one group of people—or any one kind of last name—for the challenge of housing affordability," Gregor Robertson said in a statement. "This is a public policy issue, not a race issue—and any confusion to the contrary only risks dividing our city and distracting Vancouver and our region from seeking the urgent action that is needed from the Provincial and Federal governments."

      Speaking today, Jang emphasized he wants conversations about Vancouver real estate and foreign money to be rooted in data. He noted the provincial government finally began collecting statistics on foreign buyers last June. But he said he worries many people made up their minds long before then.

      “If it’s Asian buyers coming in from Mainland China and doing all of this stuff then show me the data and prove it,” he said. “Data based. That’s all I want to see.”

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