EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION | Since publishing Part I of this three-part series, other publications have followed suit, with similar columns appearing in the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier. The articles signal a recognition that the phenomenon of affordability-scapegoating is quickly losing ground in Vancouver. There is a growing realization that, to quote Pete McMartin, “race is the unspoken issue surrounding real estate prices.” At the same time, those short articles fit into a mode of commentary increasingly associated with Vancouver: oblique and evasive, identified by an ability to ask questions rather than provide answers. Either by the practice of method journalism, faux-naïveté, or the constraints of journalistic neutrality tinged with what Am Johal calls “the epidemic of politeness,” such writing cannot help but come up short of its target. Here in Part II, Crompton shows that while racialized scapegoating relies on unsubstantiated anecdotes, the economic facts clearly show that Asian buyers are not responsible for Vancouver’s housing crisis. Crompton argues that the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Vancouver’s local ruling-class and its neo-liberal policies. Part I is available here. Part III is available here.

Facts and Anecdotes

A recent BMO report blames Canada’s unsustainable household debt and world-record housing prices on an “enormous inflow of capital from non-resident Chinese nationals.” When a journalist wrote to the author of the report in search of a source for these enormous inflows, he received the following response: “It’s based on anecdotal reports; there are no reliable data on foreign-resident purchases…If you find a good source of data, please pass it on to us.”

Despite the entrenched belief that since the 1980s the Chinese have succeeded in throwing off the equilibrium of the local housing market, the reality is that the vast majority of foreign residential real-estate in Vancouver is American-owned. According to 2010 property statistics collected by BC Assessment Authority (the provincial Crown corporation that assesses all properties in B.C. for tax purposes), about 58% of foreign-owned real-estate is American. Europe and the United States together account for 70% of all foreign-owned real-estate in the city, with the whole of Asia accounting for only 22%.

In response to these numbers, commentators who hope to peg the housing crisis on Asian capital maintain that while the volume of purchases from Asia is lower, it is the nature of those purchases that matters, since Asian buyers are bidding for luxury housing at the top and dragging the rest of the market upwards with them. Again, reality disrupts the myth. In 2010, the highest recorded purchases were from the United States ($7.17m) and Europe ($7.55m), while the highest Asian purchase was a Hong Kong owner, reaching $6.84m.

Despite the facts, numbers are often not enough to compete with anecdotes. Regardless of the data, the notion of Asian capital as a dominant category for understanding the housing crisis persists, with constant statements to the effect that “despite the lack of statistical proof,” “despite the dearth of empirical data,” “despite reports that point to the contrary,” the threat is nonetheless real. These types of analysis invoke a set of signifiers – “Asian,” “foreign,” “offshore” – that in reality serve as empty signifiers: they mean nothing but can absorb whatever prejudice is found lying around. The empty signifier is a floating signifier meant to displace blame wherever necessary.

Local Conditions: The extraction of rent from living labour

Racism, as the ultimate “floating” signifier, touches the ever-shifting nature of politics. Local historian Henry Yu has stressed the role of this uncertainty, alternating between different forms of metaphor and imagery. It is the uncertainty that has for 150 years helped make Asians into such “indispensable enemies” of the West Coast.[1]

Yu stresses the fact that the contingency of such politics makes analysis of local conditions crucially important. It is worth quoting his prescription: “There is contingency involved in anti-Asian politics – local conditions matter.”[2] It is this contingency that makes us investigate the political conjuncture, defined critically as the convergence of different political forces in the singular contemporary moment. For anti-Asian politics, the opposite holds true: the contingency is what succeeds in erasing local conditions. A marker of the success of scapegoating is its ability to capitalize on its own ‘emptiness’ by eliminating local conditions from the analysis of the situation. Slavoj Zizek captures this phenomenon perfectly with a reference to anti-Semitic scapegoating:

In anti-Semitism, all fears (of economic crisis, etc.) are exchanged for the fear of the Jew – je crains le Juif, cher citoyen, et je n’ai point d’autre crainte…(‘I fear the Jew, my friend, and have no other fears…’).[3]

It is no exaggeration to say that today, for a person who attempts to understand Vancouver’s housing crisis through the lens of excess foreign capital, local conditions become almost entirely irrelevant. As the housing crisis worsens in Vancouver, the oblivious slogan becomes: “I worry about the Asians, my friend, and have no other worries.” This persistent logic takes the form of anecdotes and empty signifiers. I know a woman who knows a guy who knows a real-estate agent who works with mostly foreign buyers. “All of his work is now with (international) buyers…very few spoke English, translators were used in virtually all the transactions,” as one anecdote reads in an article by city commentator Sandy Garossino.

In such narratives, the realities of the local situation literally drop from out the bottom, disappearing into the depths. The key to the empty signifier is that its lack of tangible proof makes the threat appear all the more dire. It plays the role of a hidden cause that can never be pointed to concretely, but whose evasiveness makes it hold all the more sway in the imagination of those who believe it.[4] As with the anti-Semitic category of the “Jewish banker,” global capital takes on the role of a mystified power, like a puppet pulling the imaginary strings of the economy.

By pointing to nothing, anti-Semitism appears to be pointing at everything, providing an explanation for the whole order of the world. The empty signifier becomes the Master signifier. It is in this eclipse that local conditions disappear behind the moon of racism, overtaken by the empty Master signifier. Thus in Vancouver, the housing economy becomes viewed as “completely independent of local economic conditions,” to quote Sandy Garossino. Finance, real-estate and the ongoing commodification of housing are re-framed as processes of pure circulation floating in a global “stratosphere,” rather than processes of rent accumulation extracted from living labour.

Vancouver becomes an undivided victim of  “excessive global capital speculation that is unrelated to the local economy” — to again quote Garossino — rather than a site of struggle between property elites and the dispossessed of the city. Instead of zeroing in on the almost-feudal relationship between landlords and renters, Garossino laments the floating housing market, upheld by the loftiness of the empty signifier of race. Instead of attacking the reality in front of one’s face, we set out to attack the elusive abstractions that cannot be demonstrated. Why? To better secure the promise that nothing is allowed to happen that may change the concrete situation whatsoever.

Elephant in the Room: Monopoly Capital

A current version of the paradoxical attempt to address reality in such a way as to rule out the possibility of changing it is the Mayor’s Affordability Task Force, whose goal is to lower the cost of housing without lowering overall property values. Given the impossible nature of this goal, the members of the task force accept that they will not be able to bring affordability to Vancouver. One businessman, Peter Simpson, ruled out affordability and mocked the very idea of another Task Force – before finding himself appointed to it. Another member of the task force, Michael Geller, maintains skepticism about what his compatriots in the development industry will produce in their role as directors of the Task Force. In an affordability task force “progress report” posted at City Caucus, Geller states:

Two key questions that need to be addressed are whether reduced costs will necessarily translate into reduced prices; and whether it is indeed possible to build truly affordable housing given the other factors such as land costs and foreign investment.

Geller delivers two telltale signs of monopoly capitalism. First, the recognition that in markets dominated by monopoly capital, costs bear little relation to price. Geller soberly casts doubt on the assumption that reduced costs – including tax breaks and fee exemptions – will necessarily translate into reduced prices. Geller is familiar with an industry whose prices already dwarf costs and where 20% profit rates are assumed as given, underwritten by Vancouver’s oligopolistic political and market structures which actively limit supply — especially affordable supply. The result, as has been written in a previous Mainlander essay, is that “market rents bear no reflection of the actual costs of tenancy but rather of the opportunity cost of capital.”

On the one side of Geller’s diagnosis is the recognition that lower costs do not produce lower prices; on the other side, the defensive insistence that these factors of supply are ultimately irrelevant because foreign demand is overwhelming the market anyways. A Business in Vancouver article effectively recapitulates these two sides of the coin:

[F]oreign investment has augmented sales in several Canadian markets, [but] its influence was significant only in Greater Vancouver…Limited inventory levels in [Vancouver] have slowed sales somewhat in 2011, given that demand exceeds available supply.

Here a free market journalist must be at pains to square the contradiction of how inventory could be limited in the context of red-hot demand. Despite vast tracts of empty land, skyrocketing prices, and growing post-Olympic demand, the supply of new condos indeed declined between 2010 and 2011, from 2,849 to 1,628.[5] It should be acknowledged that this decline is partly due to the fact that condo starts slowed significantly during the global market downturn of 2008, at the beginning of the three-year start-to-finish construction cycle of a building. What should also be noted, however, is that inventory will most certainly not over-correct or compensate for those months of lost construction, despite the fact that prices have risen to well above pre-2008 levels. It is under-supply that truly guarantees the record profits we are currently seeing in Vancouver’s condo development and marketing industry. The BIV journalist quoted above is absolutely correct in her statement that limited inventory has caused reduced sales in 2011. The assertion of a second cause, however (in the form of “excessive demand”), is a simple reversal of cause and effect: sales have not slowed as a result of excessive demand. Under conditions of monopoly expansion, demand is made into the servant of profit, and not the other way around.

“120 Homes Under $349,000″

Year-over-year market data and migration statistics, readily available to industry planners and marketers, gives nearly perfect information for use in the approximations of new supply. Far from being blindly driven by the forces of global demand, new supply adjusts itself to variations in global conditions. The development industry, with its razor-sharp grip on new supply, adds the precise amount of marginal housing each year to keep prices high and steadily rising.

Incidentally, Michael Geller speaks to the active role of urban elites in deflecting the social conflict produced by monopoly capital onto the level of foreign capital – or from the level of supply to the question of demand. Like Garossino, Geller suggests that supply ultimately does not matter in a context of hot global demand, despite his half-hearted claims that the crisis can be solved by the creative use of new building types such as townhouses and laneway homes.

On her campaign trail for city council, Garossino insisted that the housing problem is so great that it cannot be cured through increased supply. This refusal to address issues of the supply of affordable housing – including an offhand dismissal of the urgent need for social housing, and a more sustained attack on the principle of density – hinges on a vague but staunchly defended notion of unlimited global demand:

Our housing prices are so extreme relative to everywhere else in Canada that we have to look at why is that happening, and the big thing that is really noticeable is that it does appear that we have a major influx of global capital.

In a populist context, the results of this line of argumentation are not hard to guess: with a few illustrations about the candidate’s “extensive knowledge of Asia” and concerns about empty condos “never to be occupied or even visited,” voters are smoothly guided towards the assumption that demand is bursting at the seams in the midst of a veritable Asian “invasion” of investment capital.

Vancouver’s residential real estate has become a speculative commodity for global investors living outside Canada…purchased wholly as investment instruments for speculators with no ties to Canada.

During the elections, Garossino’s call for a specific restrictions on foreign ownership was further bolstered by her assertion that, in any case, foreign investors have a special “tolerance for lower rate of return on income, lower return on investment, than the local developers.” Foreign investors can afford to be taxed extra, since “return on investment is not their primary objective.” This is also why they keep their condos empty, according to Garossino, despite proof to the contrary. In 2009, Andy Yan with BTAworks conducted a massive survey of 2,400 condos in Downtown Vancouver, finding that the majority of “empty” condos in Vancouver, defined as condos not occupied by their owner, are in fact occupied by renters.

It is clear that Garossino — and so many others — would rather talk about empty condos than the renters who live in them. And for those who can’t even afford to rent a condo, non-market housing is out of the question, since Vancouver is apparently without a “tax base,” although there are many Mining, Forestry, and IT headquarters in Vancouver. The staunch neoliberalism of our Mayor, who asserts that taxation is an outdated “old formula” for generating public funds for public projects, has spread to candidates who – in the absence of an independent COPE – were strangely positioned as the election’s official opposition.

From all sides, the 2011 municipal elections in Vancouver gave voice to a homeowner’s desire that things stay just as they are. Despite her bold assertion that “tinkering won’t solve this,” Sandy Garossino was clear that her team did not want to see a radical drop in prices, arguing instead for “more surgical responses.” The difference between tinkering and precision surgery was never made clear, except to say that surgery will be carried out as a means to prevent the market from undergoing a correction, which would be disastrous for Vancouver’s property elite.

Obviously we don’t want to shock the market, because that would take a bad situation and make it infinitely worse. So my approach is to ask what are the surgical tools you could start to use.

In other words, Garossino did not want to address the many factors of the housing bubble — a multi-pronged approach might cause the bubble to deflate, and so we are restricted to selecting only one factor. This single factor – the offshore buyers – must be dealt with by using “surgical tools.” If the overarching question for politicians who wants to address affordability is, ‘how to bring down housing prices without bringing down housing prices,’ Garossino reveals that the resolution to such an intractable contradiction can only be found in empty signifiers.

Nothing Foreign about Global Capital

To begin, there is no question about the fact that today China is a source of massive surpluses distributed throughout the globe, including Vancouver. “China’s economy has been,” as the Asian Pacific Post writes, “minting millionaires”[6]. The Post does not, however, report on the Anglo-investors among these millionaires who work from Canada and who always have worked from here. Picking up where the Post leaves off, a Vancouver Sun editorial, written from the perspective of Vancouver’s business elite, remarks that while Vancouverites were once racist towards the arrival of new Asians in the 1980s and 90s, they have now realized that the Pacific Rim connection is not only source of investment into Vancouver, but a new line of entry for Canadians into the Chinese economy.

It used to be that the so-called “astronauts” – the Hong Kong breadwinners who spent much of their time aloft commuting back and forth between Vancouver and Hong Kong – were seen as oddities. Today its seen as a way of life for any Canadian who wants to tap into Asia’s boom.

In short, it is impossible to overlook that China’s new wealth emerges within a complex network of the Canada-China nexus, always blurring the lines of what is considered “global” and “local.”

These connections mean that, quoting Tristan Markle, “surplus capital extracted from China is made possible by the conditions of oppressed labour sustained by Canadian-based capital networks.” This exploitation cannot be downplayed. The transformations of the Chinese economy are today on a scale that has to be reconciled with one-sided depictions of an economy that “mints millionaires.”  As Perry Anderson writes, “never have peasants, the backbone of the revolution, been robbed in such numbers of land and livelihood by developers and officials.”[7] This process of dispossession accelerates even while the commodification of land fails to move as fast as other sectors of the Chinese economy.[8] Indeed it is for the latter reason that the domestic land market is becoming over-saturated by capital,[9] so that China’s “soaring domestic housing market has sent rich mainland investors flooding overseas to get more for their money.”[10] We are here stressing the fact that, sitting among such “rich mainland investors” are Anglo-Canadians who must of course bring surplus capital back into Vancouver from Chinese labour networks (perhaps it is the case that they have left China for more long-term reasons, such as too many strikes and uprisings in their mainland factories).

On the other side of the coin, the North American economy itself has been freeing up enormous amount of unregulated, surplus capital extracted from global and local labourers and renters. As the Occupy movement has foregrounded, if there is any economy that has been minting millionaires in the period since the 1980s, it is the North American economy. The ratio of the average American workers’ income to that of their CEOs changed from 30 to 1 in 1970 to 500 to 1 by 2000,  helping the top 0.1 percent of the population to triple its share of the national wealth.[11] During that same period, individuals’ real wages in America and elsewhere stagnated or even declined.[12] Real wages were frozen while the top layers of society dramatically increased their share of the economy. David Harvey, Duménil & Lévy, and others are precise in identifying neoliberalism as a “project for the restoration of ruling class power.”

“Local high net worth individuals”

“Downtown,” writes Bob Rennie, “is being driven by local high net worth individuals and children spending their parent’s money.”[13] These local high-net worth individuals are well positioned within international networks of labour and capital and are no less global than anyone else trading in the property market. Global in this sense does not mean “over there,” somewhere else in the world. On the contrary it means here, in front of us, and as Zizek has said presciently, the global rich and global poor often live directly above and below one another, stacked in the highrises of our modern cities. “A new global class is emerging” composed of “ultrahigh-net-worth individuals.”

These global citizens [are] the true counter-pole to those living in slums…They are, indeed, two sides of the same coin, the two extremes of the class division…with ordinary people swarming through the dangerous streets down below, whilst the rich float around on a higher level, up in the air.[14]

Bob Rennie with a model of the Ritz-Carlton Vancouver

Any effort to analyze housing costs in Vancouver should begin with the conspicuous role of ‘local high net worth individuals.’ These investors are today more important than ever for the reason that there are far more of them than ten years ago, while each one holds dramatically more money than ten years ago. The last ten years have seen an exhaustive restoration of ruling class power in Britsh Columbia, and it serves to review the empirical data to understand the roots of the surplus capital now being re-absorbed into Vancouver’s booming real-estate market.

After ten years of neoliberal reforms, an unprecedented amount of wealth has been freed into circulation, transferred to the rich from working-class people of the province of British Columbia. Since the election of the BC Liberal government in 2001, profit rates have soared while the corporate income tax rate descended from 16.5 percent to 10 percent. Today the upper 20% of BC pay a lower total provincial tax rate than the remaining 80%,[15] and the provincial government now collects more revenues from sales taxes than from income tax. Already by 2010 the people of BC were paying more in medical premiums than businesses paid in corporate income taxes, and the trends are only worsening.[16] All of these changes, which only scratch the surface of a massive roll-out of neoliberal restructuring and privatization of the British Columbia economy in the past decade, represent a massive handout to the rich, amounting to billions of transferred dollars between 2000 and 2010.[17] In each of the next four years, corporate profits are projected to continue climbing and reach $31.3 billion in the year 2015 alone. Profits have soared, but instead of being re-invested in labour, wages have stagnated and declined.[18]

All of these numbers matter for housing in at least two major respects. Firstly, the neoliberal theft of working class wages means that we have less available to spend on housing. Stagnant and declining wages are being gouged with higher rents and mortgages. Secondly, these new rounds of finance are freed up for injection into the further-inflated housing market. There is a “spatial fix” taking place in which over-accumulated capital “switches”, to use David Harvey’s terms, into fixed capital investments — an absorption process in which surplus capital is placed in non-productive sectors.[19] This non-productive sector is, above all, real-estate, articulated by Bob Rennie when referring to real-estate investment in Vancouver as question of “parking money.”[20] Simply, surplus profits leave the global industrial cycle when financial investment in housing permits a “smooth switch of over-accumulated circulating capital into fixed capital formation.”[21] In other words, the neoliberal restructuring of the economy frees up an increasing mass of finance to be injected into housing.

Local Bourgeoisie

To match the floating capital freed up by federal and provincial tax cuts, the City of Vancouver now has the lowest corporate taxes in the world. A report published by the global financial auditor KPMG places Vancouver first out a list of 41 global cities. The main finding of the report is that Vancouver has a tax system more favorable to corporations and the wealthy than anywhere else in the world.[22] In addition to a low overall rate for wealthy corporations, the municipal government has implemented a policy of property tax breaks and exemptions for real-estate developers and billionaires, adding up to tens of millions of dollars. Not long ago the two wealthiest billionaires in British Columbia – Brandt Louie and Jim Pattison (London Drugs and Nesters) – received ten-year tax exemptions for their corporations’ participation in the new Woodward’s development.

When a local neoliberal bourgeoisie has taken outright control of city council, we should ask: Is it “foreigners” who have chosen to sell off Vancouver’s social housing as market condos? Is it “foreigners” who have set the lowest corporate tax rates in world? Is it “foreigners” who have chosen to destroy social housing at Heather Place, Little Mountain and the Olympic Village? Is it “foreigners” who have exempted developers from inclusionary zoning in the Oppenheimer district? Is it “foreigners” who have written up long policies to “revitalize” areas containing our city’s largest concentration of affordable housing?

False Promises on False Creek

The answer to each is an obvious no. We can therefore begin to see how the Mayor and Vision benefit from the same old anti-Asian tropes that have plagued Vancouver for a century. Policies of tax cuts for the one percent, the sell-off of social housing, incentives and fee exemptions for billionaire developers, and the ongoing de-regulation of the housing market have come in tandem with the Mayor’s racist scapegoating of “wealthy immigrants,” supposedly responsible for Vancouver’s housing crisis. The sooner the better for calling out this ruling class double standard.


[1] Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California, (University of California Press, 1975)

[2] Henry Yu, “Is Vancouver the Future or the Past? Asian Migrants and White Supremacy,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (2006), p. 311 (emphasis added)

[3] Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006) p. 37

[4]  “It is the intervention of the pure empty signifier which engenders the mysterious X, the je ne sais quoi which makes Jews into Jews for a true anti-Semite.” Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes, (New York/London: Verso, 2008) p. 318

[5] CMHC data provided on request

[6] “Chinese flush with cash eye Canada,” The Asian Pacific Post, April 22 – 28, 2010

[7] Perry Anderson, “Two Revolutions,” New Left Review 61, Jan/Feb 2010, p. 95-96

[8] Lance Carter, “A Chinese Alternative? Interpreting the Chinese New Left Politically,” Insurgent Notes: Journal of Communist Theory and Practice, June 2010. “The Chinese Communist Party uses the powers of the state (both local and central) to keep wages low, working conditions horrendous, and squash dissent. Yet at the same time it is the state that has thus far prevented the complete privatization of the economy (perhaps most importantly the privatization of land).”

[9] Bruce McCoubrey, “Bob Rennie Selling the Olympic Village in China,” Vancouver Real Estate Market Insight, January 18, 2010. “Mr. Rennie probably knows that domestic demand for the [Olympic Village] units is almost done and the pressure is on find to find an external supply to absorb the remaining units. China is the best bet. The Chinese Government is now fighting a homegrown asset bubble and is planning restrictions on speculative real estate investing at home. Chinese investors will be looking to invest elsewhere.”

[10] “Chinese flush with cash eye Canada,” The Asian Pacific Post, April 22 – 28, 2010

[11] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005) pp.16-17

[12] Nicholas Crafts, “Profits of Doom?” New Left Review 54, Nov/Dec 2008, p.54

[13] Bob Rennie, Keynote to the Urban Development Institute (2008), p. 16

[14] Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London/New York: Verso, 2009) pp. 4 – 5

[15] Marc Lee, Iglika Ivanova, and Seth Klein,  “BC’s Regressive Tax Shift A Decade of Diminishing Tax Fairness, 2000 to 2010,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, June 2011

[16] Ibid. p. 2

[17] Ibid. p. 9

[18] Iglika Ivanova, “BC’s Growing Gap: Family Income Inequality 1976 – 2006,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, March 2009

[19] David Harvey, The Limits to Capital (4th edition) (London/New York: Verso, 2006), p. 227-8

[20] Barbara Gunn, “Let the property games begin, Bob Rennie encourages brokers” Vancouver Sun, March 27, 2010

[21] Harvey, Limits to Capital, p. 266

[22] “Competitive Alternatives 2010 Special Report: Focus on Tax,” KPMG, May 2010

21 Responses to The Persistence of Anti-Asian Racism, Part II | ‘Political Economy of the Empty Signifier’

  1. The Couve says:

    I’m not sure how you come to the conclusion that development is interested in grossly limiting the supply of its product when they’re constantly asking for greater density allowances and general upzonings so that they can produce more supply. As well, how can an industry take the form of monopoly capitalism if it’s composed of dozens of independently owned firms with no single firm seeming to produce even 20% of total market supply (and probably not even 10%)?

    If you want to address a case of government-enabled monopoly capitalism in Vancouver you should take a look at the taxi industry, it’s everything you’re accusing the development industry of being.

  2. Nathan Crompton says:

    Hi The Couve. Thanks for responding. I don’t know where those numbers are coming from, although I’m open to hearing a citation. My CMHC charts show clearly that in the last decade there have been less than six key players producing the vast majority of new product. Recently there have been years where two or three firms are found producing almost all new supply. To answer your first question about greater density and upzoning: a good amount of this new density is added directly on top of existing affordable housing stock, under the city’s one-for-one replacement policy. Replacement does not equal increased supply, it is net zero used to keep overall supply stable and prices high. Yes, supply is increasing inch-by-inch, but in all the wrong places (on top of our former affordable housing)and at a rate not even comparable to other cities like Paris (three times more dense) or Beijing (ten times more dense).

  3. The Couve says:

    The only ways development could intentionally restrict its own housing supply would be either for firms to pressure eachother not to develop supply or to pressure government not to allow supply.

    In the first case, there are far too many development companies for that kind of cartel formation. 85 developers are listed in the Greater Vancouver Builders & Developers Directory (http://www.gvrd.com/real_estate_builders/index.html), and they would have to prevent each from opening up more supply and profiting individually at the expense of the group, impossible.

    The best way to accomplish monopolistic constraint would be through lobbying government as a group to restrict new rezonings but of course development is always lobbying for more supply through rezonings. Their Vancouver federation, the Urban Development Institute, is actually used to advocate strenuously in favour of more supply. From their website,

    “Clearly, there is an impetus for government to establish a policy environment that will facilitate an increase in housing supply and effectively respond to what is becoming an entrenched housing crisis.”


    “There is a financial price that results from risk-adverse elected officials not willing to pay a political price that may cost votes at the expense of building more homes for more people; the votes of a vocal minority.”

    Also, keep in mind that in reducing supply the developers would also be driving up the price of the real estate they have to purchase to build on, which wouldn’t help their margins or overall profit. For the average development company that buys a property, develops it and sells it, the margins aren’t going to be much different if real estate is expensive or not, the key is to have alot of projects to develop (aka supply). That’s why they’re making the arguments above.

  4. LS says:

    Scapegoating “rich Asians” absolves ruling privileged + city gov of responsibility in the Vancouver housing market. http://t.co/PUOHhZ0q

  5. LS says:

    If u ever thought Vancouver housing costs r insane + blamed it on Chinese billionaires/wealthy foreigners, check this-> http://t.co/PUOHhZ0q

  6. Sandy Garossino says:

    This is a joke, right?

    Crompton criticizes me for drawing conclusions about the real estate market without finding hard data, when ALL I HAVE EVER DONE IS ASK FOR HARD DATA.

    He claims I call for restrictions on foreign ownership, citing as authority the headline of a news article IN WHICH I DO NOT CALL FOR RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP.

    The clear innuendo is that I am an anti-Asian racist. Talk about empty signifier. Crompton never contacted me for comment, nor researched anything about me or my work.

    If he had, he might learn that I have spent many years working on and supporting causes for cultural integration and harmony. I’ll skip the essay on how our housing costs are undermining and eroding that value. If Crompton wanted to interview me we could have discussed it.

    For the record, I am a member, supporter, volunteer or donor to the following organizations that promote greater intercultural and international understanding, harmony and engagement:

    UBC Institute of Asian Research
    SFU India Advisory Council
    Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration
    Indian Summer Festival of Arts and Ideas

    My candidacy was endorsed by, among others (in their personal capacity):

    Edmond Luke (former chair of the BC Multi-Cultural Advisory Council)
    Mo Dhaliwal (president of Asian Heritage Month)
    Paul Evans, professor, Liu Institute for Global Issues, director, UBC Institute of Asian Research).

    Wait, there’s more.

    My husband and extended family are among the South Asian pioneer families who immigrated to BC almost 100 years ago.

    The lived experience of race and harmony is deeply personal to me.

    All of which Crompton would know if he had not been too busy twisting my unambiguous calls for research and data to fit his stereotype of a white lady who leaps to racist conclusions unsupported by evidence.

    Simultaneous epic journalism fail & irony win.

    • kim hearty says:

      Ms. Garossino, it is understandable to get upset at being publicly associated with racism. However, listing your impressive anti-racist credentials is another version of “some of my best friends are ___”. Even self-identified anti-racists can do racist things and perpetuate racist logic – how we respond to being called out is a measure of our commitment to ending oppression, or to our pride. I personally found Crompton’s arguments on how the housing crisis is being racialized to divert attention from class exploitation very convincing – his citations of your analysis were apt and illustrative. As for “clear innuendo,” the article in which you “DO NOT” call for restrictions on foreign ownership seems typical of your entire campaign, in which you did ask for hard data (“elect me and i’ll continue trying to figure out what’s going on by asking someone to tell me?”) and did little else but perpetuate the obfuscatory, scapegoating logic which Crompton’s research proves false.

      Where does this “stereotype of a white lady who leaps to racist conclusions” appear in Crompton’s article? The only ad hominem arguments on this page are in the comments.

      If you have time to criticize the post’s “strange aura”, why not respond to some of its arguments with something substantive of your own? Pending harder data, of course, how do you think the ruthless exploitation of renters by landlords should end? How can Vancouverites protect their homes against rich peoples’ property rights? Should the city respect Native peoples’ claims to the land by ceasing to build upon it without their permission? Or should city hall continue to respect only the claims of rich developers?


  7. Way to score an own goal says:

    This sounds a lot like someone who walked straight out of his seminar in post-colonial theory excitedly looking for a target to apply it to and carelessly choosing exactly the wrong one.

    What should really have been addressed in this article is the way promoters of the development industry are levelling accusations of racism in order to mudddy the waters around the fact of property speculation. While I quite agree that capital is global and doesn’t respect borders, pointing to the fact that money is flowing into property here from China and elsewhere is not inherently racist, even if some British Columbians are racist and might spin it that way. Garossino has talked at length about curbing speculation from everywhere, and seems perfectly aware local speculators are contributing to the problem.

    The chill on discussion of speculation at all for fear of seeming racist serves one group and one group only, and I just think this article’s author is inadvertently arguing for a side I don’t think he wants to be on, meanwhile taking down someone who is working against both racism AND speculation. Wrong target, man.

    I expect better journalism from The Mainlander, which I think plays an important role in this free-market-out-of-control town. Some rigour and research would be nice. We know who’s winning in the wild West. Why are you shooting your allies, let alone one of your gun hands?

  8. Joseph Jones says:

    Ever since the Andy Yan 2009 “massive survey” of condos, I have been wondering about the emptiness or fullness of that signifier. Has anyone independently evaluated the methodology of the survey? In particular, the nature and quality of the sampling? Age of towers, location of towers, etc.

  9. Research before you leap says:

    You’ve done a great job of pointing out that Vancouver’s real estate situation is caused by a number of complex forces. However, you’ve slipped up by now making Garossino a target instead of the very same forces you point out. Some research on Garossino’s arguments would show:
    1. She, like you, is arguing FOR more empirical data.
    2. She is the furthest thing from being an anti-asian racist. I think she’s pointing out that policy makers need to look at unchecked foreign capital of any kind. Foreign – not local, anonymous investors – not immigrants. Remember she was equally vociferous about the casino which had nothing to do with anti-asian sentiments.
    Anyway, I think she’s one of the few people talking about a better vision for the city, and if this helps open up the discussion she’s been asking for, that’s a good thing. Just remember whose side she’s on!

  10. Maria says:

    Dear Research before you leap. I think it clear that Crompton argues for a look at local capital and the local speculative class (including the billions recently freed up by tax cuts) as a precondition for an analysis that draws conclusions about foreign capital – not the other way around as you and so many others suggest, including Garossino. Being a public figure who ran in the recent elections, she is a good foil for the argument, but there is nothing special about her or her campaign. The article demonstrates the way in which her position is symptomatic of the wider housing discourse in Vancouver. And since she refused to talk about local elites (she tried running for Vision but was turned down), it’s all too clear which side she is on.

    • Sandy Garossino says:

      Nice try, Maria. But untrue.

      And what’s behind this spreading false rumours and hostile animus (“it’s all too clear which side she’s on”)?

      I did not try to run for either Vision or the NPA. The choice to run independently was deliberate, in part because it is ludicrously inappropriate for City Councillors to decide re-zoning applications made by their own campaign donors.

      It was for this reason that I also TURNED DOWN very substantial campaign donations offered by several in the development and real estate community.

      And when did I ever refuse to talk about local elites?

      There is a strange aura to this post, as if people who hold different opinions from you are motivated by some evil purpose.

      Sometimes people just have different opinions.

      • Maria says:

        I regret if I passed on misinformation regarding your status with Vision. Apologies. Hopefully we can get back to the debate.

  11. Bob H says:

    Shame on Nathan Crompton for attempting to shut down debate on this important issue by trying to taint those who raise it with the racist label, it is a disgusting ploy. Pity the poor progressive who thinks he is being ever so enlightened as he watches the total disappearance of affordable housing in Vancouver, and acts as chief apologist for one of the main reasons.

    We are not blind Mr.Crompton, we see the forces at work around us.

  12. Nathan Crompton says:

    Articles at The Mainlander have always argued for the need to reverse decades of neoliberalism and tax cuts. We have long supported a speculation tax, and two years on, we are still the only publication to report on the fact that Vancouver has the lowest corporate tax rate in the world. We have and always will be in favor of taxing the rich (regardless of nationality and race) and have always argued for the deep link between neoliberalism and the housing crisis. This is what makes it so strange for Bob H to call me an “apologist” for the housing crisis, or for Lindsay Brown to claim that by arguing against racism we have “put a chill on discussion of speculation.” The only people who put a chill on the discussion are those determined to end it with scapegoating — in particular, as this article argues, those who call for a special tax on Asians.

  13. Sandy Garossino says:

    Who is calling for a special tax on Asians?

  14. Bob H says:

    Indeed Sandy, I don’t know why Nathan is making that leap, if it is concious or subconcious. Foreign money, made in places that disrespect their environment and their workers is corrosive, whether it i coming from China, Russia or Timbuktu.

    So-called Progressives should be asking themselves how letting in a wealthy landowning class that has happily derived their money from operating in a totalitarian system is going to take to participation in democracy. Or how respectful they will be of workers’ rights.

  15. Sandy Garossino says:

    Below is an excerpt from Amy Fung’s excellent blog post on this article–the whole post can be found here: http://postpacificpost.tumblr.com/post/21166514091/i-have-been-thinking-about-the-mainlanders-recent

    “Chinese investment is something serious to consider (which makes it the target of racist rants, but cannot be altogether glossed over) as the figures boil down to an immense amount of capital flowing out of China, a nation with a very different political economy within Asia and working on an unparallel scale. We are closer to the beginning than the end of China’s boom, which is awe-inspiring for better or for worse. Canada is also closer than ever to ratifying the long-sought after Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China, which will alter bi-lateral relations in unprecedented ways.

    Attacking anyone who is considering limitations on foreign ownership restrictions as anti-Asian is failing to see the bigger picture, which in fact, is capping the neoliberalist approach in Vancouver’s housing crisis. Development regulations is part and parcel of responsible government, but the tenderness of local racism looms too close to have a very necessary discussion on how to proceed beyond local monopolies while integrating growth from forthcoming international interest.”

    This captures (in a better way) the heart of my argument. Notably Amy Fung has a different cultural heritage than me, and so it’s unlikely her views will be attacked (and misrepresented) in the way mine have been.

    Which is kind of an interesting paradox, no?

  16. Nathan Crompton says:

    I’m sorry, but there’s no paradox. The fact that Chinese investment is growing has nothing to do with the debate I’m trying to have with you. If you care to read my article, you’ll find much acknowledgment of the immense growth of the Chinese economy. More importantly, you’ll find that a special tax on “foreigners” is a racist double standard that doesn’t crack the case of affordability. There’s too much speculation and we need to tax it, end of story. I’m not against Chinese land grabs, I’m against all land grabs. I’m not against a speculation tax, I’m against one that targets “foreigners.”

  17. Research before you leap says:

    I think this has opened up a good debate. Nathan – I agree that it is speculation from without and within that is driving Vancouver’s market, and both need to be questioned. You make a good point that speculation is speculation, no matter where it comes from. I’d also like to thank Sandy Garossino for being brave enough to open up a discussion that people are content with just murmuring about. Just because the foreign investment being pointed to is Chinese, it should not be defended blindly against ‘racism’. I am ethnically Indian, and I know that the wealthy investors from my home country are powerful people who have made their money in far from laudable ways, and don’t deserve to be seen as anything but rampant capitalists. The beauty of Capitalism is that, like a Walmart shopping experience, it is the same all over the world. Like Sandy, I would like to see young, creative and not so well-to-do people remain in Vancouver and not be driven out of a city they love and contribute so much to.

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