This morning I was interviewed by a reporter from Thompson Reuters. She is working on a piece about the absurd pricing of real estate in Vancouver. Inevitably, when I do these interviews, I am always asked about my opinion on foreign investment and its contribution to the lack of affordability for local families. Today I was asked if I feel that, as Vancouverites and Canadians, we fear being deemed racist if we talk about the so called “elephant in the room”…that is, the foreign buyers.
“Absolutely,” was my answer. We have become a society that is, in my opinion, politically correct to a fault. We are afraid to talk about the issues that affect us…I mean, really, really talk about them. For fear of offending someone, we would rather stay quiet.
Here’s the problem with that. When you have a feeling about something (legitimate or not) and you choose not to discuss or debate it…you decide, instead to suppress your opinion…resentment festers and grows. I feel the undercurrent of this resentment in Vancouver all the time. People laugh about how expensive housing is…we joke about it, entire dinner parties revolve around it. At the end of the day, however, people are pissed off…they’re just not coming out and saying it.
Look, I have no problem with who buys houses in Vancouver. What I do have a problem with why people purchase houses in Vancouver. When there is a significant amount of realty being purchased for investment purposes only, when homes in neighbourhoods sit empty, when new buyers make no effort to get to know their neighbours or contribute to the community in any meaningful way, that is where my concerns lie.
An example is a home in my parent’s neighbourhood. The offshore buyers purchased it for over $2 million. Yet, it sits empty. The lawn is mowed, the exterior lights go on and off on timers. Knock, knock…who’s there? Nobody. It would be better if the owners even rented the home to someone. A family or individual who would love to be part of the neighbourhood and member of the community. However, the investment is enough on its own…the owners, I am assuming, have no need for rental income.
Communities are slowly starting to erode. I barely recognize the little neighbourhood I grew up in. People keep to themselves. Kids don’t play outside with one another. Eager, involved and hard-working people are moving away. This is what we should be focusing our efforts on in our conversations about real estate in Vancouver…instead of trying to lay blame, we need to address what the effects of rising investment ownership are – and find ways to resolve them.
The benefits of feeling like you belong to a community are endless. In my neighbourhood, many (definitely not all) kids attend the local school. People know their neighbours and we say hello, hell, we even ask to borrow some milk every once in a while. The teenager up the street babysits for us, our neighbours avail of each other’s businesses and refer them to others…I can drop my kids off at the house down the street if I need to do a quick grocery run…”you need anything?”…yup, I’ll even pick something up for you while I’m there.
It’s nice to feel like you belong, like you’re a contributing and respected member of the community…you can’t put a price on it. It’s what I grew up with and what I want my children to have. Yet, as houses in my area rise to well over $1.2 million, I wonder if the community I have grown to love will begin to disperse. Is it only a matter of time before the homes around me become completely out of reach for the majority of people also? I’m beginning to feel like we’re almost there. I don’t think housing prices in Vancouver will come down anytime in the near future, and I feel that for many of us, our children will not be able to afford to live here. I fear that mine will move far away to a place where they will be able to comfortably raise a family, in a community – providing they remember what that is.
What do you think?