This Couple's Story Reveals Something Important About the Housing Crisis

May 30th 2017

Ethan Simon

A feature story on the renovation odyssey of a Toronto couple who, according to the article's title, "Bought A Crackhouse," is lighting up the internet, spurring a conversation about yuppies and the rights of tenants in an age of gentrification.



According to the story, published by Toronto Life, Julian Humphreys and Catherine Jheon, a husband-and-wife with one child—and expecting another—bought a three-story Victorian home in Toronto's Parkdale neighborhood, a diverse and up-and-coming area, currently in the throes of gentrification. But they moved so quickly on the property that Jheon hadn't even had a chance to see if before they put in an offer. As it turned out, the place was in massive disrepair, and even occupied by squatters. Pretty soon, the project became a real-life Money Pit, as the pair were forced to pay a bribe to oust the squatters, and eat the cost of repairing the shoddy work of an incompetent contractor who almost brought the house down. 

Out of money and forced to sell, Humphrey's wealthy English godfather bailed them out with a loan, and they finally completed the project for a total price tag of $1.12 million. 

Not everyone found it amusing.

On social media, many were quick to call the couple out-of-touch with the everyday struggles of most families. 







Indeed, the story does have a certain lack of self-awareness. 

Toronto's affordable housing crisis is one common to many American cities. As more and more citizens choose to live in dense urban areas, demand for urban housing increases, sending prices skyrocketing. It's a kind of reverse "white flight." As desirable urban neighborhoods become filled-up, middle-class transplants move out and in to poorer and poorer neighborhoods, raising prices and displacing the less wealthy—and generally non-white—occupants. Parkdale is just such a neighborhood, and Toronto's housing crisis is especially problematic, due to a Greenbelt policy designed to curb sprawl. 

The proof is in the pudding: Toronto rents rose 12 percent in 2016 alone. In neighborhoods like Parkdale, with low rates of home ownership, this can be a particularly difficult on residents. According to the Huffington Post, 90 percent of Parkdale residents are renters, and 1,500 people have recently lost their residences. It comes as little surprise, then, that Parkdale renters organized a rent strike last month in response to the increases.



All that is missing from the story of significantly better off homeowners pushing out renters. The piece even ends on a joke, the punchline of which seems to be Cheong making light of the fact that her family had displaced some poor folks.

We love the house and it feels like home, though we still get reminders of its past life. Just the other day a ragged-looking guy knocked on the door asking if there were rooms available. Not at the moment, I said, though if the market tanks, I suppose that’s always an option.The reality is that the influx of yuppies into Parkdale will make it impossible for many neighborhood residents to afford housing, displacing many low-income families, and tearing up communities. While gentrification is more complicated than "good low-income residents and evil yuppie colonizers"—supply and demand are what they are, and are systemic in nature—the article's author seems particularly aloof to the nature of the problem.

Most people, after all, don't have $1.1 million dollars—or a rich English godfather to bail them out of a jam.