I knew something weird was going on in Vancouver in July 2016 when I wrote a column in response to an article by Pete McMartin in the Vancouver Sun.
McMartin, who has since left the paper, was being blasted for suggesting that racism was underlying some of the public's reaction to the overheated real-estate market.
My column tried to shed light on the different perspectives of millennials and baby boomers. It focused particular attention on boomer journalists who lived through an ugly raced-based housing debate in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
For this column, I was pilloried on social media, particularly by anonymous accounts. I thought the article was fairly innocuous but clearly, lots of readers disagreed.
I shouldn't have been surprised. The same thing occurred nearly a year earlier when contributor Matt Hern wrote a column arguing that Vancouver's core real-estate problem was "profiteering"— not whether buyers were of Chinese ancestry. He, too, was roasted.
A similar thing also happened to reporter Travis Lupick when he wrote a two-part series in 2016 about how the foreign-buyers narrative came to dominate Vancouver media coverage of housing issues. (Foreign money, as defined by some who use this term, includes funds brought to Canada by landed immigrants after they sell their homes in the country they've left.)
Andy Yan, now the director of SFU's City Program, was one of those irritated by Lupick's series. Yan took exception to comments by longtime antiractist activist Victor Wong about one of Yan's housing studies.
In discussing this research Wong said that by using Chinese names as a "proxy" in a paper about 172 housing transactions, it conflates foreign nonresidents who live in Beijing with newcomers who live here and who have the right to buy whatever home they like.
More recently, Attorney General David Eby expressed regret for his role in Yan's study. It tracked housing purchases on part of the West Side of Vancouver by people with non-anglicized Chinese names. Eby supplied land-title information to Yan.
Eby's comments, which received little attention in the media, came at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia.
The Straight's Carlito Pablo has reached out to Yan for his response to Eby's comments, so far without success.
Did Eby suggest the decision to use the "sociological marker" of non-anglicized Chinese names, as he described it? Or was it Yan's idea?
Did Eby rely on NDP caucus researchers to come up with the data upon which the conclusions were based?
So far, Yan has relied on social media to offer his perspectives on the study. He doesn't appear to be showing any regrets, based on some of his recent tweets. And his admirers also remain firmly supportive of his methodology.
Foreign money captured headlines
From 2015 to 2018, the Straight was an outlier in not banging the drum on foreign money and by publishing several articles suggesting that other factors, including millennial household formation, might be playing key roles in the rapid run-up in housing prices.
We didn't ignore the other side. This 2016 essay by Martyn Brown drove home his belief that foreign buying had reached crisis proportions. But it wasn't the sole focus of our coverage—far from it—and for that we were regularly condemned on social media.
But some remained unimpressed with the foreign-money narrative, including former Vancouver mayor and ex-MLA Sam Sullivan. In the 2018 video below, he cited economic research pointing to the lack of supply as a major cause of rising prices in the region, as were strong economic growth, a rising population, and low interest rates.
After the 2018 municipal election, I wrote a column suggesting that Mayor Kennedy Stewart and the new council devote some of their political capital to countering public ignorance about factors driving up housing prices.
That recommendation was predictably ignored and once again, I was trashed over Twitter.
To offer a different perspective, I posted a commentary by one of the hardliners on foreign money affecting prices, SFU's Josh Gordon. He declared that Vancouverites don't need re-education about foreign ownership and housing affordability.
Over the past year, Vancouver's housing market has been red hot even after the economy sharply contracted and immigration plummeted during the pandemic. So what can explain this?
SFU economist Lucas Herrenbrueck recently wrote a 15-page paper with an economic model to offer insights into why this is happening. Not once did he use the words "foreign" or "foreign money".
Meanwhile, Yan has received a stirring endorsement from one of Eby's most vocal supporters, Justin Fung.
Fung is the founder of a group that's generated tremendous media coverage over its objections to "foreign money" flowing into Vancouver real estate.
Here's Fung's recent Twitter thread on the subject.
I'm presenting Fung's tweets to demonstrate that far from showing any remorse over his framing of the housing debate, this founding member of HALT is proud of his work.
Fung clearly sees zero connection between his housing activism—which received widespread coverage in the media—and the rise of anti-Asian hatred in Vancouver. There will be no backtracking on his part from the Eby-Yan study.
Below, I've included links to two recent articles by Straight contributor Ng Weng Hoong for anyone interested in reading a different perspective on the Eby-Yan study and the role it played in shaping the debate.
I don't expect these links to change the perspectives of Yan, Fung, and the multitude of journalists who've been quoting them in recent years. But these articles might interest those who've been curious about the role of monetary policy and other factors in driving up prices.
"As journalists, our duty is to tell the truth to serve the public," Ng recently tweeted in response to my praise of his work. "I'm not here to be personable or to con people."