‘Windy City Rehab’ Slammed By Chicago Residents For Gentrifying the City

Home renovation has been a staple in the reality TV world for quite some time. HGTV first went on the air in 1994, and since then it has grown into a mega force in the entertainment world with a whole slate of celebrity hosts famous for tearing down houses and building them back up again. There’s something uniquely satisfying about getting to watch a rehab project turn something worn down — and sometimes even falling apart — into a thing of beauty. It’s the premise of many of HGTV’s most popular shows including Flip or Flop and Rehab Addict. When Windy City Rehab premiered in 2019, it seemed to be following a familiar formula for success on the reality TV network. 

Now the show is getting slammed by Chicago residents and lawsuits are in the works. What’s going on? 

Alison Victoria smiling in front of a white wall
Alison Victoria | Nomi Ellenson/Getty Images

‘Windy City Rehab’ follows Alison Victoria

Much of the success — or failure — of a reality TV show rests on the shoulders of the host, and many of the most popular shows center around a lively and vivacious on-screen personality. Windy City Rehab is no exception, and host Alison Victoria has been a definite fan favorite. The show follows her through her hometown of Chicago as she strives to make the world more beautiful by fixing up old houses and giving them new life. At least, that’s the conceit that the show puts forward. Of course, reality TV often takes liberty with the “reality” part, and the rehabs are often made to look simpler and much quicker than they happen in real life. 

Those stretches of the truth, however, are not what have some viewers up in arms about Windy City Rehab. Instead, residents of Chicago are calling foul because they see the show as a force of gentrification. 

‘Windy City Rehab’ faces accusations of gentrification 

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Many of Victoria’s early renovations took place in neighborhoods in Chicago’s North Side. The city has notoriously been economically and racially divided among north and south with the North Side featuring pricier homes and higher income brackets, while the South Side has housed the city’s working-class residents in much more modest housing. When Victoria crossed into the South Side to start renovations, she also tapped into the frustrations and social ills consuming the city. Gentrification is the phenomenon of turning an area into a more affluent one through real estate projects, and it often has the side effect of forcing long-time residents out when they can no longer afford to stay.

When a Bridgeport neighborhood home that was purchased for $260,000 sold for $790,000 in June 2020 after renovations for the show, neighbors grew alarmed. The neighborhood’s statistics show a median annual income of around $50,000 with a substantial number of the residents making less than $40,000 a year, according to City-Data. Home values follow suit with the largest share of the housing stock valued at under $150,000. Talking to reporters for The Chicago Sun-Times, one neighbor voiced concern about the potential rise in property taxes and being unable to afford to stay in her own home: “I’d have to go to my son and ask for help if that happens.” Another resident was even blunter: “Overvalued bull**** like this is an affront against everyone’s basic human rights.” These residents pointed to the unhoused population in Chicago and the disparity between rich and poor as a growing cause for concern. 

‘Windy City Rehab’ has faced other issues

Frustration with the show’s participation in gentrification isn’t the only problem. Victoria explained that the last several months have been full of “trauma” as the coronavirus crisis shut down production of her show and delayed the premiere of the second season — which was originally slated for April — multiple times. The latest season did eventually premiere in September, but that hasn’t put Victoria’s issues to rest. 

Some homeowners have come forward to accuse Victoria and her rehab team of doing shoddy work that left them unhappy with the renovations. The team has also faced legal struggles as they’ve allegedly done work without the proper permits. Victoria admitted that some of these accusations were justified and has assured fans that she’s working hard to right the wrongs. This process has included cutting ties with Donovan Eckhardt who was initially a big part of the show. Time will tell if Victoria will also make efforts to address the concerns about gentrification and take a more thoughtful approach when it comes to choosing which projects to take on.