Who is Local?

“Ahmadi is still months away from getting permanent resident status, putting him in the unlucky group of middle-class British Columbians who have found themselves targeted by a tax purportedly imposed to crack down on rich real estate speculators from overseas”

I’ve never been this hopeless

I would not call Hamed Ahmadi unlucky, he’s a victim of the all too common policy apparatus that confuses residency with visa status. The BC non-resident tax of 15% on properties is supposed to target “foreign” (read Chinese) investors buying in Vancouver with no intentions of living there. I presume there are multiple other ways to determine residency and “localness” for the purpose of determining who lives here and who does not. The BC government, in its haste to demonstrate it was doing something, took the easy route and used visa status as a proxy.

Hamed lives and works in BC, which meets my definition of local. While a speculation tax on non-residents is a reasonable approach, using visa status to determine residency, and providing no sensible exceptions for locals with alternative paper work is lazy and thoughtless policy making, so is not providing exceptions for people with home buying applications already in process. It’s almost as if someone looked at the polls and press and wrote the law in a day.

In many ways, this is personal for me because I lived in the US for 10+ years under various non-permanent visas that left me vulnerable to these poorly designed, thoughtless policy measures. I lived in the same town for 10 years, was very much a local by the time I’d left, with a stable set of friends, family, work, places I shopped in, hiked to, causes I supported, volunteer work I did, and more. So, Hamed’s story could have been mine, and in some smaller ways, was mine for other parts of my life.

“CTV News spoke with BC Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson on Wednesday and asked several times for comment on Ahmadi’s situation. Wilkinson responded by repeating a piece of blanket advice for the people impacted. “Those who find themselves affected by the tax should seek legal advice because individual circumstances vary,” Wilkinson said.

This is typical of policy makers who are so removed from the day to day lives of the people whose behaviour they seek to regulate. The casual assumption that regular people can afford professionals who bill at multiple hundreds of dollars an hour speaks more about the types of people these ministers hang out with than anything else. But this sounds familiar too, I needed to consult lawyers multiple times to help me with immigration paper work.

As someone with a high level of institutional trust, and who thinks governments can affect our lives for the better with sound and thoughtful policy interventions, these types of hasty policy making are deeply disappointing. There are multiple other policy measures to make housing more affordable. The CCPA just released a comprehensive document of policies, focusing on the actual problem, the lack of affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing with a focus on cohousing and social housing, and zoning changes that reduce the protections afforded to affluent property owners would go a long way.

Originally posted on Interrobang 04-August-2016

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