The Georgia Straight
Yan’s 2015 study still stirs foreign-money debate
Five years ago, I knew something weird was going on in Vancouver when I wrote a column in response to an article by Pete McMartin in the Vancouver Sun. McMartin suggested that racism was underlying some of the public’s reaction to the overheated real-estate market. My column focused attention on boomer journalists who lived through an ugly raced-based housing debate in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
For this, I was pilloried on social media. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The same thing occurred nearly a year earlier when
Straight contributor Matt Hern wrote a column arguing that Vancouver’s core real-estate problem was “profiteering”—not whether buyers were of Chinese ancestry. He, too, was roasted.
A similar thing also happened to former
Straight reporter Travis Lupick when he wrote a two-part series in 2016 about how the foreign-buyers narrative came to dominate Vancouver media coverage of housing issues. Andy Yan, now the director of SFU’s City Program, was one of those who took exception. He was irritated by longtime antiractist activist Victor Wong’s comments about one of Yan’s housing studies.
Wong said that when Yan used nonanglicized Chinese names as a “proxy” in a paper about 172 housing transactions, it conflated foreign nonresidents with newcomers who live here and who have the right to buy whatever home they like. This month, Wong pointed out that foreign buyers accounted for fewer than one percent of the $15 billion in residential transactions in Vancouver last year. It came in the wake of Bloomberg announcing that Vancouver is the anti-Asian “hate crime capital” of North America.
Recently, Attorney General David Eby told the provincial money-laundering inquiry that he was sorry for supplying landtitle information to Yan for his study. Yan has expressed no public regrets.
Rather, he declared gratitude over Twitter to “the diverse community behind me and the scholars and researchers on whose shoulders and work I stand on”.
His admirers also remain firmly supportive. Justin Fung, a cofounder of one group that’s been raising the alarm about foreign money for years, tweeted that Yan should be given the key to the city. Fung also emphasized over Twitter how people forget that the B.C. Liberals “had deliberately not collected data on where homebuyers were coming from”.
Data analyst Jennifer Bradshaw, on the other hand, maintained that Yan “filled a void for ‘data’ that could be used to confirm what everyone wanted to hear: that the housing crisis wasn’t caused by decades of underfunding social housing or a housing system ‘built by white people to enrich generations of white people’.”
Bradshaw also tweeted that Yan’s data offered journalists like Kerry Gold, Douglas Todd, and Lynda Steele what they wanted to hear: that high housing prices were “rich Asians’ fault”.
“Any tiny piece of ‘data’ would do, no matter how tiny and insignificant,” Bradshare insisted. “And Yan provided it, and thus, the scapegoat donned its paper thin veneer of respectability.
“That was enough for so many of the rich ruling class, many of whom have enjoyed intergenerational real estate wealth in their family, to not look in the mirror,” she added.