All settlers are foreigners: Leaflet from counter-protest against the “Rally for Housing Affordability”

Two dozen counter protestors made their arguments heard at the Affordability Action Hub’s rally today. Within moments of unrolling our banner, one of the rally’s organizers demanded that we leave the plaza and threatened us by contacting the cops. We held our ground peacefully, holding up our signs and talking to the media, curious bystanders, and rally attendees. We also distributed this leaflet, outlining the colonial, capitalist, and imperialist logics underlining the foreign investment myth:

Why fighting “foreign” investors will not help us end evictions, homelessness, and the displacement of our communities

The Rise of the Foreign Investment Myth

Foreign investment has become the mainstream explanation for the housing crisis in southwest British Columbia. The foreign investment story frames the citizen-taxpayer-professional as the chief victim of the housing crisis, and legitimates their anger at being denied the detached home and yard that they feel entitled to. In order to disguise the individual’s disappointed homeownership dreams as an issue of social justice, the anti-foreign investment movement uses language from left wing and housing justice movements. They decry the “hyper-commodification” of housing when they mean that the housing they want to own is too expensive; they mention “homelessness”, but only as an afterthought to their central concerns.

Anti-foreign investment activists have conflated their deflated homeownership dreams with housing justice—and that’s why we think it’s important to draw a clear line between these political movements. But more importantly, we believe the foreign investment myth has come to feel like common sense because it stitches together the cultural crisis experienced by disappointed homeowners with the political-economic crisis of Provincial and Municipal governments. We believe the foreign investment myth is popular because it saves the state from taking anti- and non-market measures to stop the evictions and homelessness crisis, and rehabilitates the profit-driven market (with tariffs!) as the best solution to the profit-driven housing and displacement crisis.

The framing of the housing crisis as an exception within an otherwise stable system forecloses a systemic critique of global capital, and produces solutions that evade rather than centre the interests of those who experience the housing crisis at its highest, most violent level—poor, homeless, non-citizen, and Indigenous communities.

Against Home Ownership Part 1: Housing security in an imperialist country

The foreign investment myth calls back to the “level playing field” of property ownership in the post-war period, when the average white working class family could afford to buy a detached home. This narrative conceals the reality that post-war prosperity was a consequence of the imperialist domination by countries like Canada over colonized and semi-colonized territories. Nostalgia for a “level playing field” of property ownership is based on a fond memory of national wealth that was produced by turning Asia, Africa, and Latin America into production and resource extraction sites for the benefit of Canada, the U.S., and certain European countries.

The foreign investment myth also presents displacement as a recent phenomenon, overlooking that for Indigenous people, the loss of home began 400 years ago. Proponents of the foreign investment myth did not start to “feel” the housing crisis themselves until property ownership was made unaffordable to them. Consequently, they assume that so long as their concerns are addressed, everyone else will be better off too. Affordability Action Hub co-organizer Brad Barrett demonstrated this belief in a radio interview, where he claimed that the reason people are homeless is because tenants cannot leave the rental market through home ownership. In other words, the housing security afforded by home ownership will somehow “trickle down” to the poorest and most marginalized people, if only we can lower the cost of buying a home. But the reality is that the home ownership awarded to white working and middle class families in Canada after World War II was always at the expense of Indigenous and racialized communities, both locally and internationally. Assuming that a return to previous property ownership norms will serve those most vulnerable to displacement continues to erase their struggles.

Against Home Ownership Part 2: A Home is an Anti-Native and anti-Asian symbol of Canadian belonging

The anxieties represented in the foreign investment myth are both cultural and economic. A founding colonial ideal in Canada is that (British and other European) settlers can arrive in the “New World” and get a house, a yard, a good job, and a family—in short, a home. This ideal is only made possible through the occupation of Indigenous peoples’ lands, and the exclusion and exploitation of racialized groups. The “foreign” investment panic is a crisis of this Canadian cultural ideal, in which individual land ownership has come to symbolize not only security, but also belonging within this colonial, white supremacist Canadian society. We think the best response to this settler-culture crisis is to celebrate its death.

Fixating on Chinese investment, settlers latch onto a narrative that allows them to position themselves as more entitled to stolen Native land than recent immigrants and foreigners. But all settlers are foreigners on Turtle Island, and the buttressing of colonial borders in order to save the market from itself will only perpetuate the displacement of poor, racialized, and Indigenous communities, in Canada and globally.

If we focus on “foreign” investment the landlords and politicians win

We need to be clear about the problem and the solution. As long as the interlocking forces of capitalism and colonialism dominate our world, there will be a crisis of displacement and dispossession, not just in B.C. but everywhere.

Policy reforms favouring settler-nationalist capital are not going curb the displacement of the marginalized communities. Nostalgia for a lost “normal” that granted private property ownership to a segment of the working class ignores the ongoing occupation and destruction of Indigenous lands and communities, as well as the unequal global division of labor that turns non-wealthy or non-capitalist countries into factories for the production of imperial wealth.

The only solution to the housing crisis is to abolish private property and settler colonial power through building collective power that centres those most affected by displacement. We see this as a global struggle—one that requires us to build solidarity across national borders, rather than reinforce those borders to mask Canada’s colonial and imperialist projects.