How Toronto’s horrible housing market ruined my love of home-reno shows

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Real estate is emotional. Why? Because a home is more than walls and a roof, it’s a canvas and container for our lives, our families, our communities — and a vessel through which a lot of issues in society play out. So, as part of a new series, we’ve asked local writers to share their personal stories on real estate and housing in Toronto.

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The Toronto housing market has ruined my relationship with HGTV.

All right, something tells me no one is rushing to place this particular concern of mine on their prayer list, but I’ll forge forward with my grievance anyhow.

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For many of us, most waking hours are spent seeking out ways to increase the good in our lives and in the world. Any remaining time is spent seeking distraction when that laudable mission is disrupted. For me, HGTV and its cycle of renovation and house-hunting shows has long been the soothing baby crib mobile of my adult life.

Within an hour of tuning in, I get to see a finished product. After only eight weeks in real time, construction and design collide with an owner’s personality to produce a beautiful surface featured on TV.

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Think of “surface” as analogous to setting a dining room table. A well-laid table does not ensure a good or nutritious meal, but it can certainly enhance the dining experience. In my actual life as a hybrid artist/academic, eight weeks might only be enough time to complete the research on a paper, or the final touches on the initial development of a new film or theater production … might.

The work of educator or creative content curator is a constant preoccupation with what lies beneath life’s surface to explain and strengthen the good within it. In short, I spend a lot of time analyzing the nutritional content of the meal being served on the dining room table, not the beauty of the laid table itself. This means that my relationship to the surface (beautiful or otherwise) can be unpredictable and fleeting.

It comes in the form of a student’s gratitude a year after graduation, opening nights, the final edit of an academic paper. These surfaces are not the guaranteed results for every effort, despite months or even years of investment.

By contrast, for an investment Of no more than an hour, home-reno shows grant me the luxury of maintaining an extended connection to the beauty of surface. Boy, I am telling you, my endorphins line up at the gate of my mind, just waiting to be released whenever they hear any variation of: “So are you ready to see your new space?”

It’s great, just so good. Any time I tune in, I’m five minutes away from witnessing all manner of excitement at a new home or new space. It’s remarkable how many obnoxious squealing gasps of joy can result from the simple reveal of a farm sink in a beachfront home in St. Lucia, or an exposed brick wall in Stratford, Ont. — and, um, on more than one occasion, I’ve noticed those reactions weren’t coming from the people on TV (sniff, please don’t judge me). And, honestly, there’s rarely a bad time to celebrate someone else increasing their “good.”

For me, “forever home” search shows are particularly lovely on a Saturday around 3 pm when the tug of war in your mind between productivity and procrastination can reach a fevered pitch, with both sides skilfully presenting their cases.

And the winner is?! Well, in my case, let’s just say procrastination consistently brings some Osgoode graduate-level lobbying tactics because the jury rarely leaves my mental courtroom before delivering the verdict of #TimeWasting.

But, lately, instead of providing distraction, HGTV episodes have become little episodic reminders that a door handle in Toronto couldn’t be bought for what it apparently costs to remodel a three-acre ranch-style house in rural Texas.

Now, as I watch, irritation is propelling my mobile. I’m being confronted with the most pronounced “good thing mission disrupter” in Toronto: its insane housing market.

Given current trends, there’s greater likelihood of you admiring the craftsmanship of Aladdin’s carpet midflight as there is of you doing the same on a throw rug in a home in Toronto that you own. While this assertion might appear humorous, it’s certainly not funny. It suggests that home ownership in Toronto can now reasonably be regarded as a little more than treasured myth.

So now, while watching the TV reno hosts making their big reveals of family photos on accent walls and (gasp, all-in) “fixed up” $120,000 homes with enough yard space for an outdoor kitchen and volleyball court (seriously? whaaat?!), my mind drifts. I begin wondering: if the housing market in Toronto is no longer for the aspirant, gainfully employed, hard-working Torontonian — then whom is it for?

That reminder neither pleasantly distracts, nor moves “good” forward.

Quite the opposite. Instead of respite from disturbing notions of predatory capitalism in the form of million-dollar, 100-square-foot condos that seem built to last just long enough for someone to get a mortgage approval, now I’m further mired in those thoughts.

Facing any reasonable answer to my city’s housing situation is disheartening. I’ll likely not like to consider the true answer. So, it’s best I distance myself from any mechanism that reminds me of the growing disparity between the wealthy and the middle-class in my city.

I can’t even remember the last time I saw a recent series featuring regular aspiring homeowners in Toronto. What could that possibly look like? “Hi, my name is Buddy. This is my wife, Mrs. Buddy. We both work for the provincial government. We grew up in Scarborough and would love to stay and raise our family in that area. Both of our extended families are all out in Malvern. We have a tight budget of $3.2 million. I’m kind of a handy guy, so I could do some of the work myself, which I’m hoping would keep our reno budget under $420,000, because we really can’t go any higher.” These good folks would have to work for the flipping Ministry of Magic for any of this profile to be workable!

HGTV cannot (without laughing) try to feature inspiring house-hunting stories about the T-dot and I’m now less inspired by watching people pursue this standard dream in other cities. So … yeah …

See? As I said, ruined.

Sigh. I guess procrastination will have to step up her game and find a new go-to time-wasting tactic (though I really shouldn’t encourage her).

While my procrastination predicament may likely not make your prayer list, all the hard-working Torontonians out there seeking a reasonable way into this housing market potentially should.

Alyson R. Renaldo is a professor of English and critical thinking at Humber College. She is also an actor, producer and writer for film and theater, as well as a freelance journalist. Her published work can be found in The Huffington Post, The Root and NOW Magazine. Alyson holds BFA and MA degrees from the University of Southern California and Columbia University respectively.
Want to write for Home Truths? Email [email protected]

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