How One Story Pissed Off Just About Every Non-Rich Person in Toronto

It’s time for the revolution.

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May 31 2017, 3:06pm

Screenshot via 'Toronto Life'

If you can go a day in Toronto without listening to someone droll on about gentrification or the housing crisis, then you probably have a 905 area code. One place that keeps coming up in that conversation is Parkdale. The west Toronto neighbourhood has been a symbol of gentrification in the city for about a decade now—it's often compared to Williamsburg in that respect, as the creative types who moved there after being priced out of nearby Queen West then started being priced out of Parkdale—and it continues to get more and more expensive to live there.

I live in Parkdale. Since I moved into my place, rent for a unit like mine in the same building has nearly doubled within the span of a couple years. (For context: I've had a cockroach infestation, my heat barely works, and the building is on the Bed Bug Registry.) Parkdale at one point played host to rich people who built mansions there in the late 19th and early 20th century; later, it became an affordable area for newcomers to Canada, notably to Caribbean, Chinese, Filipino, Hungarian, Roma, Tamil, Tibetan, and Vietnamese populations.

In the 70s, the Government of Ontario released patients from the Queen Street and Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital to integrate them into the Parkdale community. There are halfway homes in the area, and it's common to see people hanging out on the street who look like they might have health problems.

Today, though, as rent increases would indicate, the neighbourhood is changing. Recently, tenants of notoriously bad Parkdale landlord MetCap Living Management went on a rent strike to protest ignored requests for repairs and rent increases above the regular annual limit—moves that some say are meant to push current tenants out of buildings. Now, those who refused to pay rent in May are being evicted. (Yesterday, the CEO of MetCap nearly ran over a protester over with his car, which can be seen in the video below.)

The well-known context of Parkdale's ongoing gentrification proved a fertile source of outrage for recent Toronto Life feature "We Bought a Crack House."

The writer, Catherine Jheon, is a member of a one-percenter nuclear family that bought a "fixer-upper" multi-floor house in Parkdale. Jheon and her husband shelled out $560,000 for the 4,000-square-foot home and, after a slew of issues with various contractors, ended up spending $1.1 million before they considered the place livable. Now, they're living happily ever after.

Judging by the vicious reaction to the story on social media, it went down as well as any "hate click" masterpiece has in recent years. (Look at this epic troll.) The piece shows nary a care for the neighbourhood's identity or the complex socioeconomic barriers those in the historic community sometimes face and seems entirely unfamiliar with the term "schadenfreude." I read it so you don't have to and outlined the worst parts. It was truly hard to narrow it down:

"We had just spent more than a half a million dollars on a house I had never seen."
Look, I understand Toronto real estate requires you to move fast. But dropping a cool half mil without seeing the merchandise is best left to Silicon Valley CEOs and oil oligarchs.

"At the top of the stairs, we saw two people sitting cross-legged on a mattress. 'Hi, we're the new owners,' Julian [Jheon's husband] said, cheerfully. My designer friend leaned in. 'They are smoking crack,' she whisper-hissed. I pulled Oliver close and shouted at Julian: 'Get us out of here!'"
Honestly, what part of Toronto are you from that you are that startled by seeing someone smoking crack to the point of "whisper-hissing"?

"We bought a crack house, we joked, but it was our crack house."
No further comment needed.

"The upstairs kitchen was covered in anti-capitalist graffiti."
Were you expecting pro-capitalist graffiti?

"We sold our two-bedroom rat trap for $635,000"
In Toronto, a "two-bedroom rat trap" can get you $635,000. (And this was several years ago.)

"Luckily, we still owned the two-bedroom condo at King and Bathurst."
Whew, I was worried they wouldn't land on their feet! (The author also wrote another story about their family buying a cottage. I guess the secret to freelancing is purchasing large amounts of property.)

"I wasn't thrilled at the idea of the soon-to-be four of us sharing 900 square feet, but I figured it would only be for a few months."
The horror! Humans couldn't possibly live in conditions like this, could they?

"Our purchase agreement stipulated 'broom-swept condition.'"
This is the first time in my life I have ever heard this phrase, in all its privilege-dripping glory. The more you know, I guess. Carry on.

"In one bedroom we encountered a half-dressed, fully dazed young woman; in another, a hostile-looking young man who stroked his two mangy mutts menacingly until we left his room. In the attic, we met a greasy, long-haired hipster named Jack. We explained to everyone that we were the new owners, the place was no longer a rooming house and that they needed to leave immediately. They all refused."
Here, the writer insinuates that impoverished people who are in such dire need of a place to live that they are straight-up squatting are villains who deserve to be described by harsh adjectives. I mean, clearly they should just go live on the street…?

"We considered cutting the electricity, changing the locks or just starting the demolition with the tenants inside, but it didn't feel right. We decided to give them an additional two months' notice."
A small glimmer of humanity.

"The next day, Jack called Julian and said that they would vacate for $15,000 in cash. We laughed. It was ludicrous: we didn't have enough for the reno—much less a five-figure bribe."
Subtext: Hahahahha, why would we, the people rich enough to buy yet another home, have that kind of money?

They paid a contractor $6,000 to "be rid of him."
This marked the second time in this story that the couple paid someone off.

"Desperate, we pimped out our newborn daughter for some modelling gigs."
Do I need to go into why this sentence is problematic?

When they ran out of money for renovations, they were saved by a rich godparent.
Can't relate.

"Today, we get stopped all the time by people from the neighbourhood who want to talk about our house—the mayhem that went on here has become Parkdale lore—and people love listening, wide-eyed about what we've been through."
The only people interested in hearing this tragic tale must be fellow gentrifiers wanting to know what to watch out for when they buy their own "crack house" to renovate.

"The last few years have been nerve-racking. We have a $580,000 mortgage and still owe $150,000 to [godfather] Richard. For a long time we doubted we'd ever get our money back… We watch closely for news of interest rate hikes or attempts to cool the market. One major shakeup and we're back to nightly panic attacks."
Imagine the panic attacks of people who have no secure place to live because we are in a housing crisis.

"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 kicker of all kickers: Lol people desperate to find a place to rent, in this rental climate, imagine that!

Extra kicker: They also apparently own land in Mexico.
Can't wait to read about it.

Follow Allison Tierney on Twitter.

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