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What You Don’t Know about That “House Poor” Seattle Woman

Why did Seattle so gleefully dunk on Stephanie DiSantis and her impromptu pasta vacations?

By Zoe Sayler February 15, 2023

Seattleite Stephanie DiSantis couldn’t wait to tell her friends she’d be featured in The New York Times, where she discussed her experience buying a $1.45 million Queen Anne home sight unseen during the pandemic. She urged family members to pick up the Sunday paper.

What she didn’t expect, she tells me, was her face, her beagle, and her sun-filled living room plastered underneath the headline “Buyer’s Remorse.” She didn’t expect the article to focus on her offhand comments about being “house poor” and her former penchant for voyaging to Rome on nothing but a whim and a pasta craving. 

She especially didn’t expect to become the main character of the internet. But soon she was bombarded. Satirical headlines dripped with animus. Strangers penned rage-filled tweets: “Meanwhile, back on planet Earth in the United States…300,000,000 Americans are trying to figure out how to pay their utility bill, fill the gas tank AND buy groceries.” Someone on Reddit published her home address.

It’s not tough to speculate on the origins of that backlash. Someone spending a sizable chunk of their income on a mortgage, regardless of whether what’s left affords them a transatlantic cavatappi break, sounds far better than spending said chunk on your landlord’s mortgage. One in five King County renters spends half or more of their income on housing costs, per the Census Bureau—and, as the ongoing homelessness crisis so plainly demonstrates, many Seattleites can’t afford housing at all. 

Legitimate struggles aside, nobody likes a braggart, and discussing salary has long been taboo (though equal pay advocates argue it shouldn’t be). But why should we expect the better off to keep their homes and vacations under wraps? 

In an age of influencers, we’re hyperaware—whether we like it or not—of how people wealthier than us live. We’re inundated by their mansions and yachts, their feelings about their mortgage payments. In some ways, the backlash toward DiSantis looks a lot like a quest to be heard. Hey! We’re right down the street, and we can barely afford to Uber to a restaurant, let alone fly to one. Why does she get an article?

It’s not a stretch to imagine a similar attitude in Marie Antoinette’s Twitter mentions—a brand of public humiliation unique to the internet age. In a simpler time, “maybe there would have been, like, a cute letter to the editor,” DiSantis says. “‘Gee, that girl really doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle.’ Love, Mary Lou, Eastlake.” She imagines herself penning a clarifying reply, admitting how she sounded, explaining who she really is.

Twenty-first-century attention span or no, much of the New York Times debacle can be blamed on a serious dearth of context. DiSantis doesn’t regret buying her home: She’s 48, with no kids, and decades of work (aka earnings) under her belt. She’d come to the point in her life when she wanted to sacrifice some of the spontaneous travel that had marked her 20s, 30s, and early 40s for a beautiful home. Her facetious tone didn’t translate well to print. 

On the other hand, though she’s empathetic, I’ll admit that her thoughts on the origins of people’s resentment make me wonder if there’s a part of the story DiSantis isn’t seeing, too. But remember—I’m basing my assumptions on a single phone interview. Her harshest critics based theirs on less.

Anyone curious about how DiSantis could possibly allow herself to look so famously out-of-touch in front of God and everybody should ask themselves this: If someone pulled two quotes from a jocular, hour-long conversation with you, are you confident you’d come across as irreproachable? 

“It’s hard to say what I would have done differently,” DiSantis says. “But if I had known what I know now, I probably just would have edited out the pasta comment.”

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