Reflecting on Anti-Asian Racism in Real Estate

While the rise of racism against people of Asian descent has been discussed in the media since the beginning of the pandemic, a horrifying tragedy proved how dangerous it can be.

In March 2021, eight people were killed in a mass-shooting in Atlanta, highlighting growing anti-Asian racism in the U.S. and Canada.

A recent report from the Vancouver Police Department indicated a 717% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2019 to 2020.

The story is similar in other major cities across the country, with research showing there has been a significant increase in hate crimes against Asian-Canadians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To mark Asian Heritage Month, I thought it might be helpful to reach out to East Asian REALTORS® so they could relay their experiences with racism, as four of our brave members from the Black community did last June. However, I had a sinking feeling it might be harder to find someone willing to share, as discussing anti-Asian racism publicly has always generally been discouraged in my household. We just don’t talk about it.

Conversations with friends and colleagues who share my heritage confirmed the suspicion that my experience was not unique.

In 2018, an anonymous, threatening letter blaming Asians for Metro Vancouver’s housing crisis was sent to a REALTOR® in British Columbia. At the time, Tina Mak of Macdonald Realty, a REALTOR® and the Founding President of the Asian Real Estate Association of America, Vancouver Chapter, spoke with reporters about the prevalence of anti-Asian racism in her community.

Mak was kind enough to share her perspective on current attitudes toward Chinese Canadians in western Canada.

“Lack of housing affordability has consistently been attributed to Chinese investment, and those attitudes have unfortunately been catered to by policy makers who are now poised to layer a federal tax on foreign-owners that will disproportionately impact the Chinese community in B.C.,” she said, referencing the potential for overlap with the existing provincial speculation and vacancy tax in B.C. and the property transfer tax for foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver. “A more productive use of resources would be to focus efforts on collaboration between different levels of government to create more housing supply or to address money laundering, but that fails to effectively offer up a scapegoat, so here we are.”

Regarding reluctance to speak up in the Chinese community, Mak believes attitudes are shifting and the younger generation is headed in the right direction. “Our older generation never wanted to speak out for fear of consequences or simply believing that confrontation on these matters was unproductive. Second, third, fourth generation Chinese Canadians, however, are not simply accepting that their grievances are unimportant, nor will they tolerate abuse. They are speaking up about their pain, and I’m very proud of them.”

Two REALTORS® were recently targeted by anti-Asian hate after listing a luxury $12.8 million home in British Columbia. They spoke out about the experience to local news outlets.

Matt Zhang, who is Chinese-Canadian, told Global News he and his business partner Kevin Chen noticed racist comments online after the property was featured in an online news article.

“It’s sad to say but we are kind of used to it. Being younger Asian guys in the real estate world, we encounter this a lot. It’s just sad that people automatically assume things,” he told the news station.

Political reaction

The effects of the March 2021 tragedy also prompted a reaction from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh presented a motion that was passed unanimously in the House of Commons which asked members of Parliament that they condemn the rise of anti-Asian racism and racist attacks throughout North America, and urged the government to take further action to tackle hate crimes.

Further to this, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Mary Ng discussed how the events have affected her as a person of East-Asian descent:

“A couple of days ago, a friend of mine sent me a text and it was just so disheartening because the text said, ‘You’re not going to believe this but my 70-year-old mother in Vancouver is asking where I can buy pepper spray,’ because she was worried for her safety. So, I’m worried about people. We’re talking about our friends, our neighbours, frontline workers, doctors, professionals. And well, me, right?” she said in an interview with Maclean’s magazine.

REALTOR® safety

So, what can be done?

First, the physical safety of REALTORS® and their clients from the Asian community is paramount. Our American counterparts, the National Association of REALTORS® have shared REALTOR® Safety Program Resources—we encourage you to review and implement measures where necessary.

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Second, brokerages and franchisors can play their part by ensuring they establish strong policies against discrimination, bigotry and violence. Taking concrete action by reviewing your organization’s strategic plan with a racial equity lens and bringing in a diversity consultant to better educate and serve all REALTORS® sets a much stronger tone than simply releasing a statement in support of the Asian-Canadian community.

Finally, our REALTORS® from the Asian community need to speak up and report incidents of racism in the workplace. The issues they face will never adequately be resolved until the full scope of the problem comes to light. There are difficult conversations ahead, but they are critical to progress.

CREA stands with our REALTORS® of Asian background and the entire Asian community. We are concerned for your safety, as well as that of your friends, loved ones, and clients.

CREA is committed to fostering a diverse, equitable, inclusive and anti-racist environment for all our employees, volunteers and members. We believe this ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism efforts is the right thing to do. It is also integral to the long-term success and sustainability of our association and will result in far-reaching benefits for our membership and beyond. Learn more about CREA’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Commitments.

Pascal Chan is the former Government Relations Manager at CREA. Born and raised in the nation’s capital, Pascal has (unsurprisingly) worked at various federal government departments prior to beginning his career in politics as a consultant lobbyist. He is fluent in both official languages, and occasionally attempts to show off what remains of his Cantonese. When he’s not rubbing shoulders with Ottawa’s political elite, Pascal can be found cycling around the downtown core or in the supporter’s section during Fury FC matches.

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