Researchers forced to apologize over eugenics accusations receive CMHC funding

By Chen Zhou

Canada’s housing agency is funding a pair of controversial researchers who were forced to apologize after facing public accusations of advocating for eugenics, and some housing advocates are not happy about the situation.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is funding controversial experts, UBC Sociology’s Nathanael Lauster and MountainMath’s Jens von Bergmann to identify causes of Canada’s housing crisis.

The “Metro Vancouver Zoning Project” visualizes land area data of Metro Vancouver into maps.

“We’re taking on this task to better enable the study of the effects of zoning on regional land use and development patterns, with a special focus on how zoning influences the supply of housing,” said the project web page[1] The project is also combing through relevant zoning regulations.

Lauster and von Bergmann have staunchly argued for more supply as a solution to the housing crisis and downplayed the significance of money laundering and other forms of toxic demand on home prices.

CMHC’s decision to fund these controversial experts – when CMHC requires unbiased data to better understand the complexity of the issues contributing to housing affordability problems in major cities – is not sitting well with affordable housing advocates.

“I don’t believe either Lauster or von Bergmann represent reasonable voices as it pertains to affordability solutions,” says housing activist and Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT) founder Justin Fung. Fung advises CMHC to do its due diligence when bringing in credible experts.

However, CMHC told ThinkPol that they believe the two researchers offer credible, well-researched perspectives on the Vancouver housing market.

“We are satisfied with the quality of the data provided as part of this research,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

Fung’s conclusion is partly based on their poor track record – the affidavits they submitted to the BC Supreme Court in support of a case to overturn the foreign buyer tax as discriminatory were rejected by the judge as they didn’t pass the Mohan test (requirements to qualify an expert in the court of law)[2]

As our previous report shows[3], these two experts have been publicly pro-developers and have been criticized for making inappropriate “eugenics” comments.

They have testified against the Foreign Buyer Tax and denied the role of money laundering in Real Estate.

“I’ve always been concerned when policy decisions were being decided by people who stood to profit from housing affordability issues,” Fung said.

He is also wary of Lauster’s personally benefiting from up zoning for a redevelopment done by a Chinese-owned investor/developer which resulted in him receiving a multi-million-dollar windfall[4], and of von Bergmann, who as far as he knows, has not disclosed whether property developers are clients of his MountainMath consulting firm.

Fung believes that both of their analyses focus inordinately on the role housing supply plays on affordability while conveniently ignoring or actively downplaying the effects that financialization, money laundering, speculation, and short-term rentals play. Fung feels both lack a sense or knowledge of local economic, social, or political history, being distracted by numbers without the context that generated them, much less what is excluded by the numbers they analyze.

For example, many “single detached homes” in Vancouver have multi-generational households or renters that are ignored in their analysis. Many of these provide hidden affordable rentals in the form of undocumented rental suites that don’t find their way into CMHC statistics.

Fung’s advice for the CMHC is to start from a position of “what would it take to build housing that people truly find affordable” and to ensure that any solutions they implement take into account the role land values play in making housing truly affordable.

“I’d hope they consult with experts who have done this analysis, whose end goals are to build this kind of housing. I’d ensure we are exploring non-market solutions, re-investing in housing co-ops and identifying opportunities to acquire land to build new affordable housing while reducing reliance on for-profit developers”, he says.

CMHC also mentions that the agency aspires that by 2030, everyone in Canada has a home that they can afford and meets their needs.

But Fung thinks we are not on track, and “the last 18 months have shown us that things are only getting worse”.

Fung explains that multiple levels of government are failing to take this issue seriously and are unwilling to make difficult, politically unpopular decisions that will actually bring about truly affordable, transit-accessible housing.

His advice is to start from a position of taking a goal of building housing that is less than 30% of household income and working backward from there.

“Any other approach that focuses on simply building more and densifying more is going to do nothing more than enriching a wealthy select few while displacing lower-income renters and making life increasingly difficult for your average Canadian,” Fung said.

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