Flipping the bird and the house

forsalehouse-768x512

Take the corrupted business out of house owning

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

I moved many times when I was growing up. It has always been a bittersweet memory. Those experiences of packing all my belongings, changing schools, and saying goodbye to old friends still make me reflect, wondering what life I could have had if I stayed in that neighbourhood. I never blamed my parents for moving, because I can be certain that moving wasn’t their first option either. They were doing it for financial reasons, not to punk me.

My family, like many, took their financial wellbeing seriously, and there are few investments more impactful than real estate. But above all else, a house should be a home. However, there are many—especially in Vancouver—who are trading real estate like Pokémon cards, another bittersweet childhood memory. But I digress. House flipping, the act of buying a house and re-selling it over a short period for profit, is a worrisome obstacle for young people entering the housing market.

For me, I see the place I live as a space where I spend my days relaxing, entertaining friends, and living my life. I don’t think of it as a denomination of a fluctuating market. Perhaps I should, but I don’t, because I never want to derail my life just to make money. Many people think differently. Many people would consider me a schmuck for living in an affordable neighbourhood.

In a recent announcement from BC Assessment, since 2014, 368 single-family (detached) homes have swapped owners twice or more. These houses, not surprisingly, are set in high-profile neighbourhoods: Dunbar, Heights, Point Grey, etc. But let’s be honest: every neighbourhood in Vancouver now is high profile, since nearly all single-family homes are valued in the millions.

Not only are these homes worth a lot, they are also in high demand. People are willing to pay more to live in Vancouver. So savvy—and rather despicable—people are willing to take advantage of that for a profit. That is the prime reason for house flipping, rich people trying to get richer.

Greed fuels the market in Vancouver and the people nourishing this corrupted form of business are the realtors, who are knowingly selling the properties for more than they were previously sold for. This way, the realtor and the brief owner make a profit. Here’s the kicker—it’s all completely legal in BC. While the asking price is visible, the sale price remains private, hidden from the public. This is one reason why it is a corrupted market. If there is no transparency, there cannot be any trust.

The province of BC is now intending to tax the house flippers not just through property tax but also a capital gains tax, but that does not solve the problem, it just makes house flipping a legitimate business. Yes, you can blame it on those who don’t flip houses, saying that they have zero business acumen, but just because you can do it doesn’t mean it is ethical or good practice.

A house is a home, and many people of my generation will go through most of their lives without having owned one. This is a tragedy. This is especially true when we see millionaires making easy money while overvaluing the market, and creating an unstable place for all of us to live.

Hotspots for happy campers

Parks Canada introduces Wi-Fi

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Originally published in the Other Press. May 5, 2o14

Canadians live for the wilderness, especially British Columbians. We anticipate our camping trips all winter long, and for many it’s our vacation from a stressful urban life. We want to escape our emails, our social media, and anything else linking us back to our offices and desks. Camping brings us back to the majesty of nature—and there is nothing natural about Wi-Fi.

The current initiative by Parks Canada is to install Internet into 150 national parks locations over the course of three years. While some spots will offer the Wi-Fi for free, others will charge a fee—either way, it is implemented so that visitors can stay connected with all their worries back home. How wonderful, right?

For those like me, who work mainly from the computer, having accessible Internet everywhere is a great commodity. But do I want to do work while I’m camping? Hell no! I always have this romantic idea of taking my work on vacation and doing it in the midst of travelling. I believe that type of work ethic is harmful to both the product and the worker. Separating work and play is essential to living a happy, healthy life. “I’m going camping” should still be a valid excuse for a break, even if Wi-Fi is available.

It is true that we are becoming addicted to our mobile devices, laptops, and other technology. Whether we are on social media or we are playing games, technology has proven that we no longer need to go outside or even converse with real life human beings. One can live perfectly happily from the confines of their home or office. If you think Wi-Fi in parks are going to get people outside, then you have missed the whole reason for being outside.

Going out into nature should be an opportunity to reconnect not with your digital devices, but with the world around you—the world you probably forgot while you were busy studying for your finals, or working overtime, or simply doing other things. There is a lot to see out there and you might miss something because you were too busy looking down at your phone.

Technology is excellent for bringing people together, but once people are together—at camp grounds for example—then it’s best to spend some quality time with them and not worry about others far away; there will be time for them later.

Parks Canada has stressed that there will be many places in the back country where Wi-Fi will probably never be enabled. That’s good, but the fact that so many outdoor locations will have accessible Wi-Fi scares me. What if one day Wi-Fi disappears and we can’t YouTube a video on how to build a fire or set up a tent? What will happen when we aren’t able to get lost in the beauty of Canada? What makes us Canadians great is the fact that we are survivors in the wilderness. Take pride in having a weekend where you go to the bathroom in the bushes, or cook meals from a can, or log off of the Internet, because in a world where we can take it or leave it, it’s always harder to leave it. Better memories go to those who take risks, so be a courageous camper and power off.

Gassy Jack statue in Gastown

March 7, 2013

By Elliot Chan

8171_2012-07-16_Gastown_Gassy_Jack_HDR_2012-07-16_Gastown_HDR

Formerly published in MeetVanCity.com.

A small settlement established in the mid-19th century sat at the lip of downtown Vancouver. It was there that the city sprouted into the urban metropolis it is today. Gastown, the six-blocks long district that influenced so much of the city — But to understand the area, we must first understand the man the town was named after, Captain John “Gassy Jack” Deighton.

The word “gas” was an old Victorian slang. If someone was to be gassy, that meant they were very talkative. And Captain Deighton had a reputation for storytelling. The name Gassy Jack stuck and Gastown followed suit.

He was born in Hull, England where he became a sailor for a British fleet, but made a transition to American ships because they were of better quality and had greater provisions. Gassy Jack later became a well-respected steamboat captain on the Fraser River before he settled down and opened his saloon. Back before the cobble streets, Starbucks and high-rises, Gastown was an industrial area set in the wilderness. Gassy Jack took a gamble and developed a community to serve the mill workers. Inadvertently, he became the father of a new town. Expanding from his saloon out, Gastown and Vancouver grew from there.

His establishments were relocated multiple times, during the course of the town’s expansion. But the most memorable spot was on the intersection now known as Water and Carrall Street. It was an early construction, a 12-feet by 24-feet beaten shack that stood amidst the maple trees. The spot received the name, Maple Tree Square. The early days in Vancouver were not pleasant, as Gassy Jack describes, ”A lonesome place when I came here first, surrounded by Indians. I care not to look outdoors after dark. There was a friend of mine about a mile distant found with his head cut in two. The Indian was caught and hanged.”

Times have changed; but in the spot where Gassy Jack shaped the core of downtown Vancouver is a statue resurrected in his honour. For the man that set the city in motion, Gassy Jack will remain a prime figure in Vancouver history.