Mike Smyth: Ban foreign real-estate purchases, Weaver says

Mike Smyth: Ban foreign real-estate purchases, Weaver says

Columnist Mike Smyth talks to B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver about his call for a ban on foreign real-estate ownership.

New Zealand just imposed a ban on foreign real-estate purchases in a bid to rein in a runaway market where locals can’t afford to buy.

Now, B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver says the province should do the same thing.

“We should clamp down and say, ‘Look, real estate is not a commodity for offshore speculation — it’s for a place for people to live,” Weaver said Monday. “We need to be bold. We need to start progressively, moving to a complete ban on foreign ownership. The time has come.”

The New Zealand foreign-buyers ban applies to existing homes in the country and kicked in Jan. 1.

The New Zealand government said offshore speculators — especially from Mainland China — were buying-up homes and driving prices beyond the reach of local residents.

Weaver believes that the same flood of offshore capital has distorted the B.C. market.

“There are 7.5 billion people in the world — that’s an awful lot of capital out there looking for a place to be parked,” Weaver said. “We are a province of just 4.5 million people, with some of the most beautiful properties in the world. You know why the prices have gone crazy here. Money is being parked in residential real estate as a speculative investment. It’s gotten to the point where people can’t afford to live in the cities where they work.”

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported last month that only 4.8 per cent of Vancouver homes were owned by non-residents.

But Weaver points to a study by Transparency International Canada, an anti-corruption group based at Ontario’s York University, that found nearly half of the most-expensive property purchases in Vancouver were conducted through shell companies, nominees and trusts.

“If you’re in a partnership, you can buy real estate from offshore and avoid paying the foreign-buyers tax,” he said.

B.C.’s NDP government is looking at ways to make housing more affordable, but Finance Minister Carole James said a foreign-buyers ban isn’t on.

“A ban on foreign ownership of homes is not being considered,” James told Vancouver Sun columnist Dan Fumano. “British Columbians are proud to welcome thousands of newcomers each year who help strengthen our province.”

But Weaver said James doesn’t appear to understand the problem.

“The problem is not the people who are coming here, the problem is the people who are not coming here,” he said. “We’re not talking about immigrants or refugees. We’re talking about people sitting in office towers around the world who dump capital here as a safe haven to park their money.”

Weaver said the B.C. government should take immediate steps to investigate real-estate loopholes that allow offshore buyers to scoop up properties while keeping their identities and locations a secret.

In the meantime, he said he’s considering introducing a private-member’s bill to ban offshore real-estate purchases if the government doesn’t act. It’s just one more pressure point on James and the New Democrats as they prepare to bring in their first, full budget next month.


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