Eveline Xia may not want to be the voice of her generation, but she's off to a good start.
After her riveting speech in front of about 500 people Sunday as organizer of the Vancouverites for Affordable Housing rally, Ms. Xia has become the poster child for the hottest issue in the city right now.
If she does continue on with the battle, she'd like to help people get properly focused on what matters.
"I'd like to give people an outlet, and to have their voices heard in a very sensible, productive manner," she says in an interview. "Up until now, I'd say it's been haphazard. People will comment on the issue, and then all of a sudden it descends into cries of racism and back and forth, and it just doesn't go anywhere.
"Nobody has elevated the discussion to the point of it being on a constructive path. There's so much noise and fog and useless banter."
The 29-year-old is like a lot of millennials who are trying to get a foothold in the city. She grew up here, and yet she can barely afford to live here. And like a lot of millennials, she's now questioning how and why her current lot in life came to be. Why is she supposed to accept that she'll probably never own a home in her lifetime, or that Vancouver is now the playground for the wealthy instead of for people like her?
Academics who've spent years studying the problem point to global real estate investment as the culprit for driving up prices. But government has been steadfast in its hands-off approach. First, nobody would even acknowledge there was a foreign-investment problem. Now, there's been some acknowledgement, but also a refusal to do the bare minimum, starting with data collection. Other countries overwhelmed by global buying have collected foreign-ownership data and implemented new regulations, such as extra taxes.
The data we do have, have been scraped together from other, non-government sources. Vancouver has more wealth-based migration than any city in the world, according to South China Morning Post reporter Ian Young, who did a substantial amount of research on the topic. Mr. Young's data show about 45,000 millionaire migrants arrived in Vancouver between 2005 and 2012. That's far more than the number of millionaires that went to the U.S. in the same time period. That's a lot of foreign money floating around. How can a city's housing market not drastically change with that kind of impact?
In the meantime, those residents who missed the boat on owning real estate in Vancouver are expected to lower their expectations.
"Are we going to be a generation of renters?" asks Ms. Xia. "Because if we are, where is the public discussion about this? You can't expect us to go lightly without a fight."
Ms. Xia grew angry at government indifference, at the situation she's arrived at through no fault of her own. She got her education, she's working on a career and yet she is squeezed out of her own city because she's burdened by big rent payments, with no future option to buy. The daughter of a botanist who was mostly raised in California, France and the Lower Mainland, she was not raised in a privileged family. But her family managed on the little they had.
Fed up with all the talk of average house prices soaring beyond the $1-million mark, one day she tweeted the hashtag #donthave1million. It was her first tweet, to her two followers. The hashtag went viral, and Ms. Xia's social-media fame transitioned to mainstream-media fame. She was overwhelmed.
"People were tweeting me, 'Eveline, we need you to save the city.' When did I go from average Jane to Miss Savior? That's terrifying," she says, laughing.
Prior to the rally, she did her homework, studying reports by academics and industry experts, who've commented extensively about house prices that speak to global capital rather than local incomes. Remember the days when your middle-class income would buy you a house? It seems like a distant memory now, but in reality it was only about a decade ago. It might have been a fixer-upper, but it was still doable. Not so much, anymore.
What we should be doing, says Ms. Xia, is addressing the crisis that's already well out of hand. She believes foreign money is a huge problem, and there's no end in sight.
"This is the kind of wealth that is not going to end. It will get worse. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of wealth. In Mainland China, there are so many wealthy people dying to get out."
Ms. Xia is still seeking a proper career so she can get started on her path, and Vancouver's job market is slim pickings. Combine that with the low incomes and the high cost of living, and it can be a rude awakening for the millennial looking to get started.
"It's been so tough. I'm shocked," Ms. Xia says.
There is evidence that property prices are already driving away young workers like Ms. Xia, who are vital to the economy. Vancity just released a report that said future labour shortages and dropping salaries will drive workers elsewhere. It said by 2025, 85 of 88 high-demand jobs will pay too little to keep up with the cost of housing. The only jobs that will be able to handle the cost are in management jobs, such as engineering and construction. Everybody else will struggle.
Between 2001 and 2014, housing costs rose 63 per cent, while salaries went up 36.2 per cent. By 2025, the average household will need to earn $125,692 to keep up with their mortgage, the report said.
The fear behind those numbers is the reason Ms. Xia's hashtag campaign took off. As well, there is a momentum underway. People are feeling less tolerant of public officials indifferent to their plight, or who attempt to deny the effects of foreign ownership, or who pass the buck to another level of government.
Premier Christy Clark acknowledged that there is a foreign-ownership problem. But she sees it as a first-time buyer problem.
"[A tax on foreign buyers] is good for first-time owners, but not for anyone who is counting on the equity in their homes to maybe get a loan or use the money to finance some other projects," she said.
Days later, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said there was no plan to even collect data. And he called Vancouver a "pretty reasonable" place to live when compared to other expensive cities. He failed to consider that those cities have much higher incomes and better job markets.
"They contradicted themselves," says Ms. Xia. "First they said, 'we can't work on the foreign investment issue because that will lower prices.' Then they said, 'we don't know for sure there's a problem, because we aren't collecting data.'
"You put that together and it's very clear they are trying to remain with the status quo, even to detriment of the citizens, the locals," says Ms. Xia.
"I think everybody on the left, right or centre can see the issue is clearly politicking. They are playing with us. And we have had enough with that politicking. We are wasting time."
She also takes issue with those who use the race card to deflect from the issue at hand. Mayor Gregor Robertson was recently quoted in a news story saying that he doesn't consider foreign ownership an issue. He said, "We've welcomed immigrants as long as the city has been here."
Ms. Xia says he's missing the point. The issue isn't about immigration, but about foreign money messing with house prices. She put it best in her speech:
"Unfortunately, there will be people who will try to hijack this issue and irresponsibly use the race card against those trying to work towards a solution. But we are smart enough to understand that the foreign investment that may be coming predominantly from China this year could easily switch and come from the U.S. next year. It's not about the foreignness of the people, but the foreignness of the money, the money that isn't created locally.
"It's certainly not about race – it's about a broken system that treats homes like the stock market and completely removes the people and community from the equation."
She was especially pointed in her remarks to the province.
"Do your jobs," she told the Pemier and Housing Minister.
On the bright side, she is seeing momentum. Her 500-strong rally was a start. It even attracted international coverage in Al Jazeera. And she sees a glimmer of interest from government. The mayor has suggested a speculation tax for those who are flipping homes. However, she sees that as only "a piece of the puzzle."
She also caught the premier's office "snooping her" on LinkedIn. At least they're paying attention.
For now, she's taking a break. If she does resume her non-profit affordable-housing work, she says she might focus on Jericho Lands, the federal, provincial and native land that will be up for development. It's the perfect opportunity for all three levels of government to do the right thing, she says. Also, it's something people can relate to. Why shouldn't that land be available to everybody, of every income?
"This is an opportunity for them to lead, and to show us they truly care."
East Vancouver bungalow goes for $300,000 over asking price
On the hunt for an "affordable" home? Earlier this month eager buyers lined up to get a shot at this East Vancouver bungalow priced at $899,900. After 10 days on the market the house at 3174 E. 5th Ave., in Renfrew Heights sold for $1,202,000 – $302,100 over asking.
The three-bedroom house with a finished basement is on a standard 33-by-122-foot lot. It measures 2,248 square feet and sits on a quiet, tree-lined street, located near parks and shopping.
Real estate agent Corina Marin listed the house on May 1 at a price above the $828,000 assessment. The listing became active on a Monday and was followed by two open houses over the following weekend, with offers to be presented the next day.
"People were lined up on day one to see the property, a half hour before we even opened the door," Ms. Marin says. "We had about 300 people visit the house and over 50 realtors."
She received 19 offers before her clients accepted the one for more than $1.2-million.
A few investors and builders attended the open house, but the majority were people looking to live in it, Ms. Marin says. The builders looking to demolish and re-build with a laneway addition wanted a deal on the house to justify the cost. They were easily outbid by people who intended to settle down, and who intended to add a basement suite to help pay off the mortgage.
"Most were families with small kids," Ms. Marin says. "The price increase is generated due to the low supply and strong demand, and the fact that Vancouverites will pay high premiums to remain in the same area where they grew up."
The buyer is a doctor who grew up in the neighbourhood. The sellers are pleased it won't be demolished, Ms. Marin says, because they have an emotional attachment to the house. Their Italian parents, both deceased, had lived in the house since 1973, when they had mortgage payments of $21 a month.