Sen. Woo sees potential to court business investment from immigrant homebuyers

posted on August 6, 2018

By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun |

Canada needs to do more to encourage new immigrants to invest in businesses that help drive incomes in Metro Vancouver, not just be suspect of where their money comes from to buy property in the city, according to B.C. Sen. Yuen Pau Woo.

“Foreign money has played a role, without question, in our real estate market,” said Woo, during an editorial-board meeting with Postmedia News.

However, Woo argued that while the city is suffering a disconnect between soaring property prices and stagnating local incomes, the powers that be have focused too much on controlling the price element of the equation, and not enough on improving the income side.

“The explanation (for the disconnect) is the influx, the demographic change,” Woo said, from immigrants abroad and interprovincial-migrants who have brought wealth to Metro.

“Affordability is a function of price over income,” Woo said, “and everybody focuses too much on price and not enough on income.”

Metro has the third-highest median property prices among 51 comparable cities in North America, but ranked among the lowest on the list for median household income, according to a recent study by demographer Andy Yan, head of the City program at Simon Fraser University.

Metro’s median home values in Yan’s study, at $800,220, weren’t as high as San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.’s, $1.1 million at the top. However, Metro’s median household income of $72,662 fell far behind Santa Clara’s $131,000.

Yan, after the release of his study, said high residential property prices are discouraging companies from coming to Vancouver and undermine the city’s competitiveness.

Programs aimed at attracting Chinese investment to B.C. have had limited success getting Mainland companies to set up here, but Woo argued that it’s the immigrants who have committed to putting down roots who need to be courted.

For instance, Woo said graduates of Fudan University, a top-tier Shanghai post-secondary, recently established a chapter of their alumni association in Vancouver, which represents a chance to encourage investment.

“If there were a Harvard alumni network coming here, we’d feel that was pretty impressive,” Woo said.

“We need to encourage them and help them to be successful. Because if they’re not, we’ll have the self-fulfilling prophecy of individuals with great wealth living a lifestyle here that is comfortable, but are not invested in our geography in a way that increases economic growth and incomes.”

Woo, formerly the CEO of the now-discontinued HQ Vancouver initiative and head of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, was appointed as an independent senator from B.C. in November 2016 as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s effort to remake the Senate as a non-partisan body.

In a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday, Woo talked about the progress being made in the effort to make the Senate less partisan and possibly improve the public’s impression of the body.

Independent senators, at 48, now make up the biggest block within the Senate, Woo said, and are on the cusp of becoming a majority with 10 vacant seats to be filled in the upper chamber.

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