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Chrystia Freeland speaks during a social housing funding announcement in Vancouver, on July 28. After years of watching year over year price hikes, election promises ring hollow, say housing rights advocates who’ve witnessed years of renovictions and displacement.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Metro Vancouver is the eviction capital of Canada, according to a new report.

A University of B.C. study shows that 10.5 per cent of renter households in Metro Vancouver experienced an eviction as the reason for their last move. That compares to 5.8 per cent in Toronto and 4.2 per cent in Montreal.

The province as a whole has an equally bleak rate of eviction, at 10.6 per cent, again, by a wide margin. The next highest rate of eviction was on Prince Edward Island, at 6.8 per cent. The provincial average was around 5 per cent. B.C. is an outlier.

“Honestly, it was a shocking finding,” said UBC’s Craig Jones, who supervised the research, based upon the most recent data from the Canadian Housing Survey, from 2018. Mr. Jones, who is Research Coordinator for UBC’s Balanced Supply of Housing Research Cluster, oversaw a team that analyzed survey results and, for the first time, looked at eviction rates.

“I’ll speak personally here, I’ve been a renter in Vancouver, and I was personally evicted twice within a five-year period, a long time ago. So I’ve seen it. But the fact that Metro Vancouver in terms of the rate of these evictions, or forced moves of renters, was so much higher than Toronto ... was a surprise.

“There’s proof we are different from the rest of the country. We didn’t know that,” he adds. “We had suspicions, but this is really compelling evidence that there’s a difference in Metro Vancouver and B.C.”

There’s a reason “renoviction” is a household word in B.C., where 32 per cent of households rent, according to census data. Renters have routinely been tossed out of their homes as landlords use the excuse of renovation to find new tenants who will pay higher rents. It’s a by-product of escalating land values, fuelled by the financialization of housing. Owners want to maximize their return on investment. It’s a phenomenon coming to Toronto, says street nurse and housing advocate, Cathy Crowe. If Vancouver is the cautionary tale, Toronto should take note.

“I am so furious,” says Ms. Crowe, who is a distinguished visiting practitioner at Ryerson University. “It’s way worse—everything is backlogged. In Toronto, we have 80,000 households waiting for housing. That’s not people—That’s households.”

After years of watching year-over-year price hikes, election promises ring hollow, say housing-rights advocates who’ve witnessed years of renovictions and displacement.

David Hulchanski, University of Toronto professor of housing and community development, co-wrote a review of the Liberal government’s 2015 housing platform with Ms. Crowe. “We judge policy by what governments do, not by what they say,” he says. “Real change was necessary in 2015, and it is now even more necessary. Thus, here we are, in 2021.”

The problem, says Prof. Hulchanski, is that so few mention the role of wealth inequality when discussing the housing market. Social housing, or non-market housing stock, such as co-ops, accounts for about 4 per cent of Canadian homes, largely derived from the 550,000 units of non-market housing built during the golden years of Canada’s national housing strategy—which provided long-term investment to social housing, and which the Conservative and Liberal governments stopped funding by 1993.

Canada’s housing system is based on market demand, encouraging denser forms of housing such as townhouses and towers as a solution to affordability. Prof. Hulchanski refers to a report released this year, Opening Doors: Unlocking Housing Supply for Affordability, a joint effort of the federal and B.C. governments. The report does not address the fact that many people don’t have enough income to pay market prices.

“The growth of income and wealth inequality in Canada since the 1990s allows a minority of Canadians, perhaps the top 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the wealthiest, to fully engage in the rampant and highly profitable financial exploitation of the rest of Canadians who simply desire a good quality place to live, appropriate to their needs, at a price they can afford,” says Prof. Hulchanski. “All but 4 per cent of Canada’s households must go to the housing market for their housing, to either rent or buy.”

And then there is the other factor that is widely blamed for contributing to unaffordability, the infusion of foreign money into the housing market. The Liberals and Conservatives are proposing a temporary two-year ban on new foreign ownership, even though foreign buying has long been a fact of B.C. life going back decades.

The federal government’s Immigrant Investor Program was a gateway for foreign money entering into B.C., which found its way into the real estate market. The federal program was finally cancelled in 2014 after government acknowledged that the investors weren’t paying their fair share of taxes.

South China Morning Post reporter Ian Young, based in Vancouver, attempted to obtain what would have been a revelatory report, if it had been made public at the time. The report, produced by Burnaby-based Canada Revenue Agency investigative auditors back in 1996, found that wealthy migrants purchased more than 90 per cent of luxury homes in Burnaby and Coquitlam, while declaring incomes lower than those declared by refugees.

Mr. Young had been tipped off by a disgruntled whistle-blower that knew of the findings and provided him with excerpts. However, when Mr. Young approached the CRA, they refused to acknowledge the report existed. He made a freedom of information request for the document in August, 2016, and only received it last month—a full five years after his request. This was not a complicated request. Mr. Young had not asked the CRA to produce documents. He’d asked for an existing report.

Ironically, they sent him the report on an old-fashioned DVD—by express post.

“Because time is of the essence,” he says, with sarcasm.

“This is not just a journalist’s issue,” he adds. “If this was not a secret in 1996 imagine how that might have influenced the story of Vancouver.”

If they had taken action, they’d have done local income earners a favour, because tax evasion drives up home prices. Local income earners who pay their fair share of taxes can’t compete with people buying $1-million properties and declaring next to nothing. One newcomer to Canada purchased a $2.88-million Burnaby home and declared a total household income of $174. Others declared negative incomes.

And yet, it took government 18 years after the CRA report was written to cancel the Immigrant Investor Program. And a Quebec version of the program continued, and was only temporarily suspended in 2019, when it was acknowledged that the vast majority of successful candidates were not residing in Quebec, as intended, but moving to B.C. and Ontario.

“Vancouver became the most popular destination … on the back of these schemes,” he says.

Moreover, the auditors got similar demographic results when they looked at a random sample of more than 6,000 luxury properties in Vancouver and Richmond.

“Twenty years later, the immigration department shut down and froze these schemes for the exact reasons that were identified by these CRA auditors in 1996,” says Mr. Young. “If you’ve got to be angry at someone, be angry at the government authorities who allowed this to happen.”

Since the pandemic began, there are those who point to the strong housing market as a sign that foreign money wasn’t so big a culprit after all. What they are missing, says Mr. Young, is that Vancouver prices have actually slowed compared to the rest of Canada.

But the foreign money that flowed into the province in the past few decades hasn’t gone away.

“You can turn off the taps, but that doesn’t reduce the amount of water in the bathtub,” he says.

B.C.’s outlier evictions rate reveals that things went awry some time ago.

“We were a basket case on a global level.”

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