Would limits on foreign owners curb Vancouver’s skyrocketing housing prices?

The skyrocketing price of Vancouver housing, driven in large part by footloose Mainland Chinese capital, shows no sign of letting up. Now former NPA councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner is asking if it’s time to put limits on foreign ownership.

No doubt the brutal bidding wars for waterfront views are driving up the cost of housing in more modest neighbourhoods, but who cares where the money comes from? Vancouver housing costs have been unaffordable for years.

The concern over foreign ownership echoes debates of the 1980s, when writers like Donald Gutstein documented the impact of the New Landlords, usually Hong Kong or ethnic Chinese investors seeking major development opportunities. There was an uproar during that period when an entire condominium complex in False Creek, directly west of the Cambie Bridge, was entirely pre-sold in Hong Kong.

But Vancouverites overcame their anxieties as their equity climbed.

Ladner is right to point to the problem of run-away real estate speculation, which is a major obstacle to attracting workers and professionals at every level of the economy.

But the solution is more likely to lie in new initiatives, supported by every level of government, to produce rental and modest market housing, than it is in attempts to control the ethnicity of home buyers.

If Vancouver’s Short-Term Incentives for Rental program is any indication, that will be possible, but not easy, particularly in the face of community resistance to any increases in density.