Ooh, [foreign ownership of property is] a senstive subject and not to be taken lightly. I just moved to Vancouver from London, England, where there was a similar issue – foreign investors with significant amounts of money buying up property, propping up demand, and inflating values. The worst is when properties just sit empty! One could argue that affordable housing is a basic need – like water, energy… health care, education… that should be provided as part of a government’s social security policies. However, global economies have been rapidly swaying towards the free market economy… greater restrictions or regulation leans economies towards socialism or even communism and some people (namely those who believe they have a lot to lose) become uncomfortable with that.
Instead I have this solution: instill a culture and behaviours that promote long-term use value in property rather than encourage price speculation or people generating financial wealth from property values rising. i.e. don’t sell out. Start teaching a different sort of land economics in schools, university, and TV (enough of these property tycoon and property ladder type of TV programs). Put land back into common ownership (see Community Land Trusts or wider-scale, more mainstream applications of co-operative housing models). Back in London, I had been working on a model to enable groups of people to form communities and buy property, be able to effect better long-term ownership and stewardship of property instead of leaving property vulnerable to developers and speculators – essentially help create Community Property Developers of Shared Values Housing. Looks like the model I’m working on might have some applications in Vancouver as well.
By the way, a tax on investment isn’t really enough, if there isn’t the land to build on or land becomes too expensive for the city to do anything reasonable with the tax dollars. The idea isn’t to restrict investment, but rather enable an alternative form of investment – and that is by groups of people in a community, with shared values and ways of working together over the long-term.