Vancouver Sees Vacant Investor Owned Mansions While Locals Struggle To Find Housing

Vancouver’s middle class are increasingly commuting over land and sea as the city grapples with its affordable housing crisis.

By Jeff Vasishta February 23, 2017

Vancouver is awash with empty multi-million dollar homes owned by foreign investors looking for a safe haven to park their cash. The fact that many middle-class residents of the Canadian city are simultaneously struggling to afford a place to live has got locals riled up. Last month, the city fired its chief housing officer. The reason was thought to be the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“It’s unacceptable for so much housing to be treated as a commodity,”  Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement last week. “Housing is for homes first, and as investments second. Vancouver will continue to do all it can to maintain and protect affordable homes, and pursue all tools available to ensure the best use of all our housing.”

Like in Paris, which also has a vacant housing dilemma, measures have been taken to curb rampant foreign buying, which has inflated prices after it absorbed C$1 billion ($760 million) of foreign money in five weeks alone. A property-transfer tax of 15 percent was levied last August on oversees buyers purchasing residential property. It caused many buyers to head to nearby Seattle.

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Vacant or temporarily occupied dwellings have more than doubled since 2001 to 66,719 last year, according to Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, who analyzed census data for Metro Vancouver. The vacancies have coincided with a burgeoning property prices as 21.5 percent of all B.C. residential properties saw assessed values of at least $1 million in mid-2016. Within city limits, 99.7 per cent of the 75,295 detached properties in Vancouver had assessed values of at least $1-million last summer, according to a new study by Landcor Data Corp., which tracks real estate in British Columbia.

The exorbitant cost of housing—the cost of owning a bungalow in Vancouver now accounts for 87 cents of every dollar earned by the average family—has caused neighborhoods to become hollowed out. Middle-class residents are forced to either live with room mates or commute long distances. The number of residents on Vancouver’s west side—long favored by families and an easy commute to downtown—has fallen three percent since 2001, in contrast to five percent growth in population across the whole city, Yan said. The median single-family house can cost as much as C$4.9 million in that area—about 65 times Vancouver’s median household income.

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Nanaimo, a formerly rough-and-tumble logging and fishing town of almost 100,000 people on Vancouver Island, offers the same stunning views of snow-capped mountains and rugged bays as its larger neighbor at a fraction of the cost. A single-family home there averages $358,200, an increase of about seven percent over the past five years compared with Vancouver’s 57 percent gain. It has seen an influx of Vancouver residents deciding to call it home. Float planes take off for downtown Vancouver several times an hour, a vehicle ferry, helicopter flights and a planned high-speed passenger service have all made it a viable alternative despite the commute across the Salish Sea.

“We’re really an annex to Vancouver,” Bernie Dumas, president of the Nanaimo Port Authority told The Globe And Mail. “We’re seeing Nanaimo becoming the backyard of Vancouver.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver is splintering into pockets comprising the have’s and have not’s.

Bloomberg reported that David Eby, a member of British Columbia’s legislative assembly, last year identified C$57.1 million worth of residences bought by students reporting no income in his west-side district of Point Grey. Clearly, they were being purchased by overseas investors in the name of their children who may or may not be students in the area. Accordingly, the number of residents on Vancouver’s west side—long favored by families and an easy commute to downtown—has fallen three percent since 2001 contrasted with the overall five percent population growth across the city.

These investor saturated neighborhoods have, according to Yan, “become just luxury items like Ferraris. They’re not affordable for most local incomes.”


Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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