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A sold sign posted on a real estate sign outside a home in the East end of Toronto near Woodbine and Danforth Avenue on Jan. 23, 2020.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

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Jessie Willms is an audience growth editor at The Globe and Mail.

Canada’s real estate market borders on total lunacy. And I just bought myself a slice.

The idea of homeownership felt impossible even six months ago, when I declared in this newsletter that I was opting out, choosing instead to invest my savings or commit to #vanlife. Amid soaring real estate prices and an overheated Toronto market that reduced friends to tears (or the suburbs – and who can say which is worse), I claimed I would not go down the same path.

I wrote back then about what I saw as the benefits of my decision to forego owning real estate: It gave me a sense of relief and also helped me let go of resentment I was feeling in the background, because as a single woman, I don’t have access to some of the things some of my peers do (such as the double income couples enjoy).

I recognized that buying real estate isn’t out of reach for all women, or all single people. But, I maintained, homeownership just isn’t a realistic goal for many of us.

I said I wouldn’t change my mind and jump into the market unless more and better housing options become available for everyone. So what changed?

Mortgages 101: What’s a mortgage and how to choose between fixed and variable rates in Canada?

Certainly not the more or better housing. Prices of homes that are available continue to soar on their rocket ship to the moon, and the forces behind first-time home buying are just as inequitable now as last summer. Home prices in Toronto are 29 per cent higher this month compared to January of last year. And while housing starts also hit a record high, it’s unlikely those new homes will slow the rise in prices any time soon. Meanwhile, a recent report from CIBC underlined the impact generational wealth is having, with about 30 per cent of first-time home buyers receiving financial help from their parents to make a home purchase.

No, all that changed is that I found a great condo, and it somehow came in at my (limited) price point.

But even as I find deep joy in my home – the thrill of painting the bathroom a rich hunter green that would spook a wary landlord or the delight of smashing a truly awful floor-to-ceiling mirror installed by the previous owner – I’m still conflicted about homeownership and the feeling has not abated. Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that despite the personal upside, I’m participating in a fundamentally broken system, that I’m making an individual choice that benefits me while contributing – directly or indirectly – to a larger problem.

I’m not sure that feeling will disappear, at least not when the gap between the haves (me) and the have nots is still measured in miles.

But it is also not possible, by sheer force of will or belief, to change the fact that real estate is a smart place to put your savings in Canada. Housing is a key driver of wealth, and despite my deep rage about that fact, it’s a reasonable financial move for my own future. And I’m joining a league of women, who despite still earning less than our male counterparts, make up a significant portion of the home-buying market. In the U.S., women are second only to married couples when it comes to buying real estate. And in 2019, 61 per cent of first-time and repeat home buyers in Canada were women, according to a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. survey.

So while I’m now a homeowner, I still resent that, for many other people, there are such limited choices.

Renting anywhere, but especially in Toronto, can be fraught. Most renters have horror stories of the city’s worst landlords, the fear of being renovicted or worries about rents that will also hop on a rocket ship to the moon. It’s an oddity that, often, a mortgage is cheaper than rent (even as that insane rent prevents many young people from being able to save for a down payment). And rent-to-own models, like Key or Carpe Diem, present a whole other host of problems. (Owning 2.5 per cent of a condo isn’t exactly the dream.)

From a finite range of imperfect options, I chose what most closely aligns with my values. I’m thrilled to have a permanent home, happy I did it on my own. I just wish there were more and better options for everyone.

What else we’re thinking about:

What’s the deal with democracy? Can it be made better? I enjoyed this Open to Debate with David Moscrop podcast episode, which dives deep into the health of institutions that are necessary for a liberal democracy to thrive. Take a listen if you’re a nerd, and for a palate cleanser, follow it up with the most recent You’re Wrong About episode. You’re Wrong About offers thoughtful re-examinations of cultural moments, events or notable people, and on this episode, joins up with the Decoder Ring’s host, Willa Paskin, for a cross-over podcast. The episode asks, did Tom Cruise really jump on Oprah’s couch? Or is it just another example of us collectively misremembering a cultural moment? Don’t worry, the show doesn’t try to drum up sympathy for the star, but you will get an incisive look at how a culture changes (hint: it’s about the internet).

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