New affordable housing advocacy group holds vocal Vancouver rally

Housing Action for Local Taxpayers is a new advocacy group pushing to solve Metro Vancouver's long-standing housing problem — and it appears to be attracting people ready to mobilize on the streets.

"How many out here are attending your first rally because you're so angry about the state of housing affordability?" Justin Fung asked the crowd of about 200 people at the group's rally in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday afternoon.

"We're trying to bring fairness back for local citizens for local tax payers, people who work and live and contribute to the city."

Foreign ownership argument

The group drew a strong list of speakers on Saturday, including many who have been outspoken about what they believe is the role of off-shore money in Vancouver's out-of-control housing prices.

This included Christine Duhaime, a lawyer who has asked that Ottawa crack down on money laundering in Vancouver's housing market.

She was also involved in a case where a Chinese bank froze the assets of a businessman accused of fleeing China and buying "luxury" Lower Mainland homes after defaulting on a $10-million loan.

SFU professor Josh Gordon also spoke at the event. He's the author of a study that suggests people's dreams of owning a home are being crushed because they can't compete with foreign investors. He said he no longer accepts "distraction" excuses such as low interest rates for the state of the super-heated market.

Others at the rally included:

- Caroline Adderson, author of Vancouver Vanishes.

- Dr. Darren Joneson, a physician in Chilliwack who claims he can't afford a home there.

- Kishone Roy with the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.

- Generation Squeeze UBC professor Paul Kershaw.

While the foreign ownership claims being made by the group and its speakers weren't new, many in the crowd were protesting the problem in public for the first time.

"I'll be honest, this is my first rally that I've every gone to," said Ulrike Rodrigues, who lives in a condo in East Vancouver and is concerned that units in her complex are now being used as short-term Airbnb rentals.

"What's really important is that people just discover what's been happening in the shadows, and so a rally like this helps put daylight on different issues and how they're connected."

The group members say HALT's goal is to give space for average residents to share their rage about housing and make the issue number one for the 2017 provincial election.

'Tear apart communities'

"I'm seeing it tear apart communities in the city," said Fung. "I'm seeing a lot of people struggling — they're being evicted from their homes, young families are trying to get into their first home."

The group is also calling for:

- A stop to corporate donations for political parties.

- Limits on immigrant investor programs.

- better enforcement of money laundering and tax fraud as it relates to the housing industry.

- Better regulation of short-term rentals.

In July, the provincial government released data that showed foreign buyers made five per cent of property purchases in Metro Vancouver over a three-week period.