Hildebrand Fellow Taesoo Song Investigates Effects of Ontario's Housing Speculation Tax

November 14, 2022

Taesoo Song is a Ph.D. student in the City & Regional Planning Program at UC Berkeley. He holds a B.A. in economics and an M.S. in urban planning and engineering from Yonsei University in Seoul. His research specializes in housing policy, gentrification and neighborhood changes, urban economic development, and migration. He received a Hildebrand Graduate Research Fellowship in Summer 2022 to study the effectiveness - and effects - of Ontario's tax on foreign speculators on the region housing market.

In July 2022, I had the opportunity to conduct a scoping study in Toronto with the generous support of the Canadian Studies Program. I originally aimed to study the impacts of the Ontario Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST) on the distribution of immigrants and inequality when I first arrived in Toronto. During my stay, however, I realized that the NRST could be reflecting an underlying tension in Ontario and Canada concerning immigrants, foreign capital, housing markets, and integration.

The Hildebrand Fellowship supported my flight, accommodations, and living expenses, as well as compensation for interviewees. My field research mainly involved networking with other housing and immigration researchers, conducting interviews with local real estate agents, and identifying and observing quantitative data. In Toronto, I was able to attend seminars and events on the local housing market and urban development, most of which were hosted by the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. I also networked with other scholars working on my research topic, including those at the University of Toronto, York University, and the Canadian Housing Mortgage Corporation (CMHC). These scholars provided me with valuable resources and insight into Canada’s history of immigration and housing policy, which allowed me to refine and expand my original questions and identify different types of quantitative data for housing research.

I also conducted four semi-structured interviews with real estate agents who mostly work with immigrants. I learned that these agents did not find believe that the NRST was effective at reducing housing costs. However, despite being immigrants themselves, they still supported it due to the belief that “Canadian land and housing belong to Canadians”. Nevertheless, the interviewees were unable to clearly distinguish between immigrants and speculative foreigners. Moreover, they could not articulate to what extent foreign speculation affected the local housing market. This (un)perceived tension between foreign speculative investment, housing unaffordability, and immigration is where I hope to build on my dissertation.

Lastly, I was able to explore different parts of Toronto and North York, observing the spatial distribution of different types of housing (single-family housing, condominiums, row houses, etc.), construction activities, and immigrant neighborhoods. I also gained a better understanding of the Greater Toronto Area’s transit networks, employment centers, and the development trajectories of different neighborhoods and how they are related with each other.

Based on my preliminary research activities, I hope to eventually write a dissertation on the foreign homebuyer taxes in British Columbia and Ontario, where I plan to investigate (1) the relationship between immigration and neighborhood change; (2) the political and economic motivations behind the taxes in the two provinces and their effects on the discourses concerning immigrants; and (3) the effectiveness of the taxes in curbing housing costs and the mechanisms through which they do so.