Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese irked by inequality, tax avoidance

October 11, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

When urban planner Andy Yan spent an hour last week on a Fairchild radio talk show, every Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking person who called was irate about growing housing inequality and tax avoidance.

“It really surprised me. The biggest lesson out of it was that Chinese-speaking people are as concerned as everyone about fairness and transparency and accountability,” Yan said.

The housing researcher said Chinese-Canadians appear as worked up as others about the growing gap between the house-rich and the rent-poor in this metropolis of 2.4 million people, in which one in five people have Chinese origins.

Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, found in a study of the 2016 census that Metro Vancouver led the 10 most-populous cities in Canada in having the highest percentage (16.5 per cent) of residents living in low-income households.

Yan’s study, in addition to confirming there are genuinely low-income city neighbourhoods, also added evidence to rising worries about Lower Mainland households that appear to under-report income.

“It’s a total mind-spin,” Yan said. “In Richmond, it seems to be a special concern,” he said, explaining how residents of the municipality, who are 50 per cent ethnic Chinese, are concerned many households may be under-reporting incomes to avoid taxes.

In a large swath of northwest Richmond, centred around Westminster Highway and Gilpin Road, which is replete with new high-end condos, 33 to 50 per cent of residents report living in low-income households. The Canadian average is 14 per cent.

Yan said his study revealed parts of West Vancouver and the west side of Vancouver are also sharp anomalies, with 25 to 33 per cent of individuals in households declaring poverty-like incomes, despite the stratospheric housing prices in those areas.

Yan’s study echoes two reports by veteran real-estate researcher Richard Wozny and UBC geographer Dan Hiebert, which show that residents of core Metro municipalities, where housing is extremely expensive, are often paying less taxes than people in the suburbs, where real-estate values are more modest.

In light of the study by Yan and others, three major factors appear to be contributing to why Metro Vancouver outstripped other major Canadian cities in having the most low-income households.

One factor is the region’s unusually large cohort of poor and working poor, a result in part of tepid wages compared to other Canadian cities.

A second cause relates to neighbourhoods with high-end housing in which some families appear to not be declaring their full worldwide incomes.

A third reason came to light this week, when immigration lawyer Richard Kurland highlighted a Statistics Canada report showing contrasting financial outcomes among foreign-born residents — who make up 45 per cent of Metro’s population.

The report by Garnett Picot and Yuqian Lu showed that immigrants from Asia, who are predominant in Metro, are much more likely to report “chronic low incomes” than the Canadian-born and immigrants from elsewhere.

The disparity was most pronounced among immigrant seniors, who were 15 times more likely than Canadian-born seniors to declare poverty-like conditions.

After Yan pored over the results of his study, he was not surprised to see that more than half the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are on low incomes. It is a struggling zone notorious for high rages of drug addiction and mental illness. It is the most extreme example of several low-income zones dotted through Metro, where old rental apartments are the norm.

The unsettling neighbourhoods to Yan, and others, are those dominated by costly houses and highrise condos, but have 25 to 50 per of households claiming low incomes.

In addition to northwest Richmond, such tony neighbourhoods include Ambleside, Sentinel Hill and Cedar Dale in West Vancouver, and Kerrisdale, Arbutus Ridge and Oakridge on the west side of Vancouver.

Detached homes in these neighbourhoods typically sell for $2 million to $6 million, with condos going for $500,000 to $1.3 million.

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