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Meet the Wealthy Immigrants at the Centre of Vancouver’s Housing Debate

July 30, 2016

Globe and Mail |  Hostility toward rich, Chinese newcomers has left many asking the same question: Why is Canada willing to take our money, but then belittle us?

Frances Bula talks to a hesitant community

At an ornately decorated Chinese café on a back road in suburban Richmond, three dozen people are picking at cheese and tomato sandwiches. They are dressed in plaid shirts and windbreakers, jeans and runners, and the kind of business suits aspiring bank managers might wear.

They are waiting to hear from speakers who want to persuade them to hand over some of their presumed wealth. But not for residential real estate. These recent immigrants from mainland China are awaiting pitches to invest in biotech, high-tech, smartphone apps and commercial real estate.

“I am trying to show them some other things they can think about,” says Jason Liu, one of the organizers of these seminars and a shareholder in the 1029 Café, which operates as a kind of informal community centre. “We know the Canadians don’t like everyone buying houses.”

These people hear plenty of criticism in Vancouver’s mainstream media and on social media about buying and selling houses and condos. Many Vancouverites say people like them are driving up real estate prices in the region to the point where locals are shut out.

Resentment reached a fever pitch this week, when the province acted to put a check on investors by adding 15 per cent to the property transfer tax for buyers who are not citizens or permanent residents. At the same time, new data showed 10 per cent of sales in the Lower Mainland were to foreign buyers – most from China.

NDP MLA David Eby has called for an investigation into the phenomenon of immigrants who live in multimillion-dollar homes but appear to have no income. Yet again, that has fuelled suspicions about mainland Chinese immigrants in general.

Many of the new arrivals and are baffled by the controversy, wondering why they are the focus of anger over a housing market in which Canadians are realizing sale prices beyond their wildest dreams. And, in particular, they are divided over whether the new tax is an understandable response or another indication they are not welcome.

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