Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting a rough ride for going after doctors and small-business types allegedly exploiting the tax system to their benefit.
Perhaps Mr. Trudeau would get more brownie points pursuing those gaming the real estate sector, people who are leaving a far more critical problem in their wake than anyone sprinkling income to pay a few less dollars in tax.
The latest census information underscored once again the inexplicable divide that exists between average incomes in certain parts of the country and house prices. The median total income for households in Metro Vancouver, for instance, was $72,662 in 2015 – 15th in the country. In the city of Vancouver, it falls to $65,327 – an area in which the average house price is $1.4-million. In neighbouring Richmond, B.C., the average house price is over $1-million and the median total income is a paltry $65,241.
Only when you go further out into the burbs, where house prices are lower, do incomes begin to rise. In Surrey, for instance, the average home price is $764,000 and median total income was $77,494 in 2015, according to the recent census.
In a place such as Calgary, median household income was just under $100,000 and average house price around $460,000 – so there isn't nearly the disconnect that you see in Vancouver or Greater Toronto, where the average home costs just over $750,000 and median household income was $78,373.
In Metro Vancouver, some of the most expensive areas for housing – Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond – claim some of the highest poverty rates.
Richard Wozny, a real estate analyst with Site Economics, has delved into the numbers in Metro Vancouver. He says that in the world of economics there is something called the median multiple, which is the ratio of income to average house price. So, if you earn $100,000 and the average house price in the city in which you live is $200,000, than the ratio is two to one, or simply two.
A median multiple of three or under is considered affordable; five and over is considered seriously unaffordable. Hong Kong, one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, had a multiple of 19 in 2015, according to a Demographia study. Australia's Sydney, another city with extreme house prices, had a multiple of 12.
Metro Vancouver's median multiple exceeds 20, with some municipalities such as the city of Vancouver and West Vancouver in the high 30s. And yet, the median household incomes in some of those same ultra-expensive neighbourhoods fall below the regional average. How do you explain that?
Mr. Wozny says even factoring in the likely percentage of retirees in some of these areas, the numbers make no sense. More likely, some of those buying homes for $1-million, $2-million or $3-million are not reporting their full incomes. We know that, in some cases, wealthy offshore investors are using trusts and numbered companies as well as spouses and children to buy homes while reporting little annual income.
Meantime, people in the "outer burbs" living in homes of less value are reporting more. In other words, there are people of moderate income living in Metro Vancouver who are, through their taxes, paying a greater share of the costs of the regional services and infrastructure that others, making far more income, also enjoy.
Canada has become an Eden for money launderers and tax evaders, allowing many to freeload off of others who can ill afford it. It was disclosed this week that since 2015, the Canada Revenue Agency has identified hundreds of millions in taxes owing in real estate transactions. Yet only three cases nationwide have been referred for criminal prosecution.
Mr. Wozny looks at a city like Seattle that has a higher median household income than Vancouver and lower average house prices. He believes part of the reason for that is because the United States has tougher regulations, including taxing worldwide incomes. This helps prevent offshore opportunists from scamming the tax system and pillaging the real estate market to the detriment of honest, hard-working Americans.
It's ironic that the proposed tax changes that are causing Mr. Trudeau so much grief are supposed to benefit the middle class, that fuzzy demographic the Prime Minister loves to defend.
Yet, that same middle class in parts of this country are getting absolutely hosed by some who are helping to drive up housing prices, reaping the financial rewards from it, but not paying the same costs as everyone else.
It's not fair. And the government needs to do something about it.