Speculation tax doesn’t go far enough, Burnaby councillor says

By Drew Penner

Burnaby councillor Nick Volkow is newly single. His life changed forever when his wife passed away a year-and-a-half ago.

In recent days he’s been pondering the next steps in his own life. But the 22-year Council veteran has also been growing increasingly alarmed at the state of affairs, not just for people in his suburb, but all along the Pacific.

“The housing market here is completely off the hook,” he said. “The sense of community is being lost in all our cities.”

After the provincial government tried to put a damper on skyrocketing house values and rampant home flipping through new real estate taxes, ThinkPol wanted to look beyond the edges of the City of Vancouver, to hear reaction from elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

When we got the chance to speak with Volkow, we heard a man with deep community knowledge attempting to raise the alarm about forces that are eroding the things he loves most about his hometown[1]https://www.burnaby.ca/Our-City-Hall/Mayor—Council/Council-Profiles/Councillor-Nick-Volkow.html.

“Along the whole West Coast basically what’s happening is people are coming in from off shore,” he said, referring to the flight of capital from China and elsewhere from investors seeking to diversify their assets as a hedge against a slowing economy. “The Chinese government is freaked out about it.”

Though its existence dates back to 1892, Burnaby didn’t achieve city status until it turned 100[2]https://www.burnaby.ca/About-Burnaby/About/History.html.

It’s a place where still close to half (43%) say they’re Christian, while more than a third of the population is Chinese. Its own growth had jumped into the double digits in the late aughts, before slowing somewhat. It’s put some of the opportunities Volkow experienced over his lifetime into jeopardy for the next generation.

“Young people cannot get into the market,” he said. “There’s no easier way to say it.”

He fears a San Francisco-style housing crunch worsening, and knows just how tempting it can be to sell a home in this market before the bubble bursts.

“What’s causing this in the Lower Mainland is offshore money, foreign investment money, mainly coming form mainland China,” he said. “They launder the money through the casinos and purchase properties at completely stratospheric rates.”

When speaking about the housing market he echoes concerns you hear often in other industrial sectors, where many analysts say Canada gets a raw deal for materials, since we ship products elsewhere to be refined or manufactured into consumer goods.

“People in Canada say we’re selling the country out,” he said, referring to our housing supply. “We’re giving it away for nothing.”

I ask him if he’s ever been accused of being racist, considering he’s not shy when it comes to blaming Greater Vancouver’s ills on folks from China trying to live the Canadian dream.

“They tried to shut me up by using that argument a few years ago,” he said. “They threw out the Race Card.”

He says he’s never had a problem with anyone of another race, describing his interactions with lower-class immigrants who he remembers living down by the river. He says the need for a crackdown is a legitimate one.

“The man and women in the street have seen this stuff going on for years long before any of the regulatory agencies that should be looking out for our interests,” he said. “The Race Card being thrown at me has never ever shut me up.”

Offshore investors may bristle at the thought of taxes like the provincial NDP’s speculation levy introduced in the February budget. But Volkow doesn’t. Actually, he believes they could have been even more strict, considering the magnitude of the affordability crisis.

“The speculation tax has put a little damper on it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s high enough personally.”

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.burnaby.ca/Our-City-Hall/Mayor—Council/Council-Profiles/Councillor-Nick-Volkow.html
2. https://www.burnaby.ca/About-Burnaby/About/History.html

4 Responses to Speculation tax doesn’t go far enough, Burnaby councillor says

  1. John Clark says:

    The problem isn’t really speculation… People buy extra homes and rent them, this is a long tradition among middle class and working class people throughout the city (and with the advent of better rent controls this will be quite tolerable). The problem is that real estate investors get all sorts of tax advantages intended for residents but they get them when their “housing stock” is left vacant. We need to tax vacant housing stock significantly, up to 10% of assessed value per annum, IMO.

    • nonconfidencevote says:

      10% ?
      That means nothing to a millionaire hiding money from the govt of China.
      Tax vacant residential housing stock 50% of its assessed value PER YEAR.
      Methinks vacant houses would be on the market pretty damn quick.

      • Anonymous says:

        exactly – what people don’t understand is that in China you legally cannot move more than 50k out of the country per chinese ID. So how the hell does one bring in millions of dollars? It’s all done illegally!!!! The source of funds arent even being looked at by Canadian banks when they know full well its illegal.

  2. nonconfidencevote says:

    The market has turned for single family homes due to their outrageous prices and tightening bank loan rules( B20).
    That has forced buyers into the condo market ( the next collapse?).
    Either way when professional couples both earning over $100,000 per year each cant hope to buy a house……something’s going to give.

    All this while interest rates are still at hisorically low levels….all predictions are….May will see a Bank of Canada increase in rates.

    Lets see what the Spring and Summer bring in the real estate shell game……bloodbath comes to mind…

    Canadian politicians need to pull their politically correct heads out of their asses and BAN foreign ownership of RESIDENTIAL real estate.
    It’s that simple.

    I dont give two shits if foreigners own cottages, business’s or farmland but when I make good money and i cant find a place to either buy OR rent…..
    Guess what I’m gonna do come the next Federal Election!
    I’m gonna vote for the Party the will end the pillage of our RESIDENTIAL real estate.

    And if Justin Turd-eau wants to sit on his high horse and be a non confrontational ,politically correct, rich person who has never had to worry about the cost of anything in his life……….vote him out of office.

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