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Hundreds of people attended an affordable housing rally, organized by the #DontHave1Million Twitter campaign, in Vancouver on May 24, 2015.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Despite a lack of data, foreign buyers are seen as being largely responsible for pushing up Metro Vancouver housing prices, according to a new survey.

The findings underscore the vast difference between many residents' perceptions of a foreign influx of money and the real estate industry's belief that offshore investment is a minor factor in the region's housing market.

The online survey by the Angus Reid Institute shows that when asked to choose from a list of multiple reasons behind soaring real estate prices, 64 per cent of the respondents pointed at foreign investors. That is far above the next most popular responses speculating on potential causes of expensive homes. Forty-four per cent of those polled agree that a wave of wealthy investors in general are to blame while other reasons cited include the desirable West Coast location (38 per cent), absentee owners (35 per cent) and low interest rates (21 per cent).

The survey in the first three days of June canvassed 821 Metro Vancouver adults who are part of a panel of respondents. The poll is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"Metro Vancouverites don't necessarily blame government for housing prices but they are, nonetheless, unhappy with what government has done, or perhaps not done, at both the municipal and provincial levels," the Angus Reid report said.

The average price for detached homes within the city of Vancouver surged 19.2 per cent over one year to hit a record $2.23-million last month.

But the B.C. Real Estate Association argued last week that the primary reason behind higher housing values is densification, notably the reduced supply of detached homes and the focus on building condos on a limited land base. The influence of foreign buyers from countries such as China has been vastly overstated for the broader housing market, said the association, which asserts that offshore money has primarily flowed into high-end detached homes on Vancouver's west side – not condos and townhouses in the suburbs.

The lack of data on the residency of buyers makes it difficult to draft new policies, said Paul Kershaw, founder of Generation Squeeze, a lobby group formed to represent the views of Canadians in their 40s and younger.

In the Angus Reid poll, 79 per cent of those surveyed said they support calls to collect data on where property purchasers are from.

The survey came days after Eveline Xia, creator of the Twitter hashtag #DontHave1million, spearheaded a May 24 rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery to draw attention to the housing challenges in the region, especially for millennials. Housing data need to be collected by a neutral source and not the real estate industry, she said in a recent interview. "The provincial or federal government should start tracking the data," said Ms. Xia, who is planning a new rally next Wednesday to highlight calls to collect data through a residency declaration on land transfer forms.

Andrew Yan, an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects who studies Metro Vancouver's real estate market, said one option is for data to be compiled through BC Assessment. The provincial Crown corporation estimates property values on behalf of B.C. municipalities, which in turn use the information to determine tax rolls.

Three weeks ago, B.C. Premier Christy Clark dismissed a proposal by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who called for the province to introduce a speculation tax on people who flip houses. She also rejected his suggestion to selectively raise B.C.'s property transfer tax to target high-end transactions or a luxury tax.

But the Angus Reid survey said 69 per cent of the respondents are in favour of a speculation tax and 79 per cent support the idea of an increased property transfer tax for purchasers from outside Canada. The report noted that 16 per cent of those polled strongly agreed and 27 per cent moderately agreed when asked if they are seriously thinking of leaving Metro Vancouver due to skyrocketing house prices.

"Citizens perceive a problem and are looking for their local and provincial governments to point the way to a solution. If this doesn't happen, the region risks losing a significant portion of its younger generation to more accommodating destinations," the report cautions.

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