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The temperature goes up in Vancouver housing wars, with stories on data and racism

July 19th, 2016 · 19 Comments

Just when you think things can’t get any more virulent in Vancouver’s debates over real estate, they do.

As far as I can tell, the heat went up starting with the province’s decision two weeks ago to release three weeks worth of data on sales, which showed that about five per cent of Vancouver real estate is bought by foreign investors, according to data now being collected by the province.

(The data indicated some distinct hotspots in Richmond and Burnaby, where the rates were 14 per cent and almost 11 per cent respectively.)

Then Pete McMartin at the Vancouver Sun weighed in after that, making a forceful case that now it was pretty clear that racism was really underlying the conversation. His argument, if I can summarize, was that, since it’s clear that foreign-investment levels aren’t that high, what’s really going on is that Vancouverites just don’t like wealthy Chinese people of any description. Only he was a lot more vividly than that.

That, of course, sparked a huge reaction, with Justin Fung (Housing Action for Local Taxpayers) and Fenella Sung (Friends of Hong Kong) becoming the go-to spokespeople on local media making a counter-argument, that the current debates over housing do not have a race-related element and, if I’m capturing this correctly, they’re really just focused on the reality of the Chinese economy.

Then the Georgia Straight weighed in with several articles, including Travis Lupick’s two-part series on Vancouver’s history when it comes to race and real estate, here and here. That contrasted, at one point, the way stories and studies about the overwhelming influence of foreign money appear to get much more public traction that stories and studies that assign it a role as just one factor among many.

He also wrote an earlier news story quoting Vancouver human-rights activist Victor Wong, which really made people set their hair on fire, as well as accusing the Georgia Straight of now being in bed with developers.

Then Doug Todd from the Vancouver Sun added his essay arguing that the current conversations are really about policy, not race.

Throughout it all, each side made accusations that the other side is just trying to shut down any conversation. There were also suggestions that white people don’t have any authority to talk about racism (although it seemed to me that suggestion was only made about those raising issues about racism, not if they were saying there is no racism). And there were those who suggested that you had to pick your side — you could talk about racism or you could talk about affordability.

As for me — well, I’d like to see, as I’ve said elsewhere, a conversation where we can talk about what is and isn’t problematic about coverage where race is involved, without either side screaming “you’re trying to shut down the conversation.”

I know my journalism students struggle with race issues and have for years. I had a whole class once a decade ago that balked at writing a story from a school-board report that suggested Chinese ESL students were performing differently on certain tests from other ESL students. For them, the idea of referring to anything with a generalization about race was abhorrent — even if it was a rigorously conducted school study. It took a lot of talking from me to get them off that position.

I’ll have more to say about this at a later date.

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