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British Columbia Government statistics refute Vancouver’s lack of affordable housing

Condos in Burnaby, B.C., are seen in the distance behind Vancouver homes. CMHC avoids speculating that the super-heated high-end market is having any kind of ripple effect on the rest of the region.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

There are two real estate worlds in Vancouver these days.

In one, single-family house prices approaching the stratosphere on the west side are provoking a wave of anxiety about what's happening to the city. Public attention is focused intensely on mainland Chinese buyers – a mix of foreign investors, immigrants and temporary residents – who are suspected of driving up prices.

In the other – the world of government-gathered statistics – everything is fine in the region of Vancouver. The city's west-side problem is a limited phenomenon and all of the fundamentals are good, according to this scenario.

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"There is really a range of affordability by geography and home type," Robyn Adamache, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.'s principal analyst for the Metro Vancouver market, said. Ms. Adamache, along with other CMHC officials, presented their two-year outlook to a crowd of bankers, realtors and builders at a downtown hotel on Monday.

"There is still 50 per cent of all single-detached homes that are below $750,000," she said.

That number is a far cry from the average price in Greater Vancouver of more than $1.4-million for detached houses, as reported by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver for September. The median price for a single-family detached house on the city's west side was more than double that in September, the board reported. Unlike CMHC, the board does not include Surrey or Langley in its calculations of average house prices.

In the CMHC world, house prices are rising generally in the Metro Vancouver region, which includes everything from Lions Bay to Langley, but it isn't in the kind of bubble territory that Toronto, Regina and Winnipeg are facing.

Houses in the $3-million-plus category have seen sales numbers soar, Ms. Adamache said. But the rest of the region is humming along at an energetic but not unrealistic pace.

For the future, the region's "housing demand is expected to remain solid, because of employment growth, population growth and low mortgage rates," she said.

CMHC also stays away from any speculation about whether the super-heated high-end market is having any kind of ripple effect on the rest of the region, even though some researchers are convinced it is.

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"I don't think there's a methodologically sound way of determining that," Ms. Adamache said. "Housing markets are very local."

Another analyst, CMHC's B.C. regional economist, Carol Frketich, suggested some of the demand in Vancouver is being driven by an influx of people from Alberta and Ontario, especially as international immigration has been dramatically cut due to the drastic reduction in the temporary foreign worker program.

"Vancouver is attracting more than half [of all the immigrants to B.C.] from Ontario and a third of those from Alberta. That could affect the Vancouver housing market."

She added that British Columbia is expected to have strong first-time-buyer demand in the coming years and that Vancouver, which has a younger age profile than the province, will be a big part of that.

But that's also at odds with the current narrative among many in Vancouver, who believe the region is losing its young people because of soaring house prices – not just on the west side, but everywhere.

The two views seem almost beyond reconciliation. Certainly, they are provoking debate.

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A new analysis that hit the media Monday – the result of a joint effort between Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby and UBC adjunct professor Andy Yan – found that 66 per cent of the 172 detached west-side homes bought in a six-month period last fall and winter in three west-side Vancouver neighbourhoods were sold to people with "non-Anglicized Chinese names."

That was hailed by some as definitive proof of the impact of offshore money in the city, although the study wasn't able to determine whether buyers were foreign investors, recent immigrants, or temporary or permanent residents.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he was concerned about the focus on race in the study.

"It's not about race," the mayor said. "We have to get away from that. We have to deal with this as a housing challenge and make sure the B.C. government takes action to deal with speculation and with luxury homes."

Mr. Robertson once again called for governments to track data on who is buying houses.

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