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Why should only a few property sellers benefit when everyone has contributed to make Vancouver what it is?

September 25th, 2014 · 38 Comments

That was the provocative question last night from writer, university lecturer and activist Matt Hern last night as he responded to Andy Yan’s big-data presentation on trends that have influenced Vancouver in the past and will in the future.

Hern, reflecting on Yan’s data about foreign ownership, speculation, the city’s low incomes and high house prices, came in with a big meta-point.

Essentially (I was moderating this SFU-sponsored talk on Vancouver in the 21st Century, so don’t have exact quotes), he said that people are moving here because of the quality of life in the city: the roads, the parks, the schools, the community centres, the good planning of urban life. In other words, they’re not paying $5 million for a house here because the chunk of land and the house sitting on it are worth that. (If so, I’d add, they’d go to a different city where they could get a palace on a few acres for the same price.) They’re willing to pay that price to be in a city where all of the citizens have created, with their dollars and their energy and their community contributions, the Vancouver that exists now.

Yet the people who are making the money from this are only those who happen to own certain pieces of property and are able to sell them at vastly inflated prices. (Yan’s talk demonstrated, as did a recent Globe and Mail story, that it’s mainly single-family housing that is skyrocketing in price and mainly the houses at the high end of the scale.)

I got the sense from the audience at the talk that a whole other two-hour debate session could have evolved from this. There wasn’t time for that, but here’s a place to carry on the conversation.

And, before any of you dismiss it as ranting from the left, I have heard big-time real-estate consultant Richard Wozny make a related point on several occasions. Wozny’s point has been that the real-estate development and property speculation here is over-loading infrastructure that local residents paid for in order to create a functional, good-quality city. Now, others are jumping on and stressing it without making the same kind of contribution.

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