MOVIES & VIDEOS ON HOUSING ISSUESCompiled by Roger Rouse – 9.27.16**rogrouse@pitt.edu**



This is the latest version of the evolving list of documentaries, fictional films, and YouTube videos I’ve been compiling on housing issues. It is meant to serve as an archival resource for personal learning or teaching regarding these issues and also for working out whether there are any pieces we’d like to screen before the housing summit to build interest in the issues and/or afterwards to help continue the conversation.

It begins by grouping the pieces by theme and then lists in turn documentaries, fiction films, and YouTube videos.

I no longer mark which ones I’ve seen because I’ve now been able to watch the great majority of them. However, I do use an asterisk to mark pieces that seem worth putting on a short list of candidates for a lead-in series for the summit and a hash tag to mark pieces that seem worth considering for a follow-up series. Videos marked with an asterisk and a hash tag are ones I see as candidates for showing either before the summit or afterward it.

Each entry begins with a synopsis provided by the distributor or director. Many are then followed by my own observations about the pieces and/or their suitability for use in connection with the housing summit.

The list currently focuses almost exclusively on the United States.

If you have suggestions of other films or YouTube videos you’d like to add to the list, or comments on the following assessments, please send to: pghrights [at] riseup [dot] net


THEMES

Pieces in italics show efforts at collective solutions that have had at least some success.
F = fiction film; Y = short YouTube video; C = cable channel. Anything without a letter is a documentary. Some documentaries are available on YouTube.

(1) Overviews & Explanations: Slums and Skyscrapers (Y); How Class Works (Y); Ida Susser’s remarks after Gut Renovation; Inside Job; Marginal Call (F); The Big Short (F)

(2) Urban Redevelopment: Class Divide (C); Holding Ground; Third Ward TX; The Hill; Gaining Ground; Land of Opportunity; Rezoning Harlem; Chocolate City; A Hole in a Fence

(3) Urban Redevelopment (sports arenas): Chavez Ravine (Y); The Atlanta Way (Y); The Hill District’s Carl Redwood (Y)

(4) Gentrification: Class Divide (C); America Divided – Episodes 1 and 2 (C); Gut Renovation; The Atlanta Way (Y); Gentrification: The Atlanta Way (Y); Flag Wars; Chocolate City; Rezoning Harlem; Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Y); Gentrification and What Can Be Done to Stop It (Y); What We Don’t Understand about Gentrification (Y); Million-Dollar Shack (Y); Little Men (F)

(5) Foreclosure & Evictions: How Class Works (Y); For Sale (Y); Desperate Households (Y); New Occupy Homes Coalition (Y); Fighting for Our Homes (Y); Si Se Puede; 99 Homes (F); Inside Job; Cathy Come Home (F)

(6) Assault on Public Housing: Class Divide (C); The Atlanta Way (Y); The Pruitt-Igoe Myth; Chavez Ravine (Y); Chocolate City; Land of Opportunity; Public Housing

(7) Affordable Housing & Community Land Trusts: Streets of Dreams, Arc of Justice; North Side Coalition for Fair Housing (Y)

(8) Artists & Arts Activism: Third Ward TX; Chocolate City; Detropia; Gut Renovation; Cathy Come Home (F)

(9) Forced Displacement: Banished; The Prison in Twelve Landscapes

(10) The Role of Big Banks and Real Estate Developers: How Class Works (Y); Zombies from Wall St. (Y); Inside Job; 99 Homes (F); Marginal Call (F); The Big Short (F); For Sale (Y); Desperate Households (Y); New Occupy Homes Coalition (Y); Fighting for Our Homes (Y); Si Se Puede (Y)

(11) Disinvestment & Neglect: Zombies from Wall Street (Y); Detropia; Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Y)

(12) Historical Perspectives: Banished; The Pruitt-Igoe Myth; Chavez Ravine (Y)

(13) Pittsburgh: East of Liberty; The Hill District’s Carl Redwood…(Y); North Side Coalition for Fair Housing (Y)

(14)Beyond the U.S.: Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Y); Si Se Puede; Narvik (Y); Cathy Come Home (Fiction)

DOCUMENTARIES

A Hole in a Fence (2008) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1297278/ -- Chronicling the changing fortunes of a unique abandoned lot in Red Hook, Brooklyn, A Hole in a Fence explores the complicated issues of development, class and identity facing the city's most populous borough. It's the story of a vanished homeless community and the young architect who documented it; of a real urban farm run by local kids amidst a landscape of industrial decay; of young graffiti writers losing their stomping grounds; of the arrival of a controversial Ikea megastore; of a photographer's vision of nature's renewal; of the doomed struggle to save a rare part of the neighborhood's working waterfront; and of a filmmaker's discovery of a fleeting, hidden world on the other side of a rusty old fence. [46 mins., dir. D.W. Young] [Carnegie Library]

[A somewhat quirky film that offers an indirect view on the impact of urban redevelopment in Red Hook but without enough attention to housing issues for our purposes.]

America Divided – Episodes 1 and 2 (2016) -- https://americadividedseries.com/about-the-series/the-episodes/ -- A new series on the Epix channel in which eight celebrities explore pressing social issues with each celebrity focusing on one issue. Their explorations will be intercut across five episodes. As part of Episode 1 (premiering on Sept. 30) “legendary C producer Norman Lear investigates gentrification in New York City, revealing a city of people with no homes and homes with no people.” In Episode 2 (premiering on Oct. 7, “Norman Lear continues his investigation into the gentrification of New York City and goes undercover to expose racial discrimination in housing.” I gather that one of our speakers, Rob Robinson, will appear in at least one of the eight episodes though I don’t know which one(s).

#Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community (2016) -- This film traces the remarkable journey of New Communities, Inc. and the struggle for racial justice and economic empowerment among African Americans in southwest Georgia. NCI was created in 1969 in Albany, Georgia, by leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Congressman John Lewis, and Charles and Shirley Sherrod, to help secure economic independence for African American families. For 15 years, NCI cooperatively farmed nearly 6,000 acres, the largest tract of land in the United States owned by African Americans at the time, but racist opposition prevented them from implementing plans to build 500 affordable homes as part of their community land trust. Unable to secure government loans to cope with the impact of successive years of drought, NCI lost the land to foreclosure in 1985. But 25 years later it was given new life as a result of a successful and little-known class action lawsuit brought by hundreds of African American farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for loan discrimination. With the settlement, the original founders purchased a 1,600-acre plantation once owned by the largest slave owner and richest man in Georgia. NCI is now growing pecans and using the antebellum mansion on the property as a retreat and training center, still committed to its original mission of promoting racial justice and economic development. [23 mins.; dirs. Helen Cohen, Mark Lipman] [Pitt Library – streaming]

[This is an important story that is well told. It highlights the efforts of African-Americans in Albany, Georgia to pursue not only land ownership in itself but also cooperative farming on collectively owned land and then the development of perpetually affordable housing on that land through a Community Land Trust. It also vividly illustrates the way class antagonism, red-baiting, and racism combined to thwart the initial plans and how people who were initially defeated were able eventually to win an important though still only partial victory. As an historical account, it complements The Pruitt-Igoe Myth and Chavez Ravine. As a story of effective collective struggle, it goes nicely with Holding Ground. And as an account of the first efforts to create a Community Land Trust, it provides valuable background to Streets of Dreams. However, I think the focus may be too narrow and to historical for the purposes of a film series related to the Housing Summit; and if we were to show one piece on Community Land Trusts, I think it would be better to go with Streets of Dreams, which looks at their pursuit in several parts of the country, gives more weight to the present, and is shorter.]

#Banished: American Ethnic Cleansings (2007) (Also subtitled, How Whites Drove Blacks out of Town in America.) -- http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/banished/film.html -- A hundred years ago, in communities across the U.S., white residents forced thousands of black families to flee their homes. Even a century later, these towns remain almost entirely white. BANISHED tells the story of three of these communities and their black descendants, who return to learn their shocking histories. In Forsyth County, Georgia, where a thousand black residents were expelled, the film explores the question of land fraudulently taken, and follows some descendants in their quest to uncover the real story of their family's land. In Pierce City, Missouri, a man has designed his own creative form of reparation—he wishes to disinter the remains of his great-grandfather, who was buried there before the banishment. And in Harrison, Arkansas, home to the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, a white community struggles with their town's legacy of hate. By investigating this little-known chapter in American history, BANISHED also takes a contemporary look at the legacy of racial cleansing. Through conversations with current residents and the descendants of those who were driven out, the film contemplates questions of privilege, responsibility, denial, healing, reparations and identity. What can be done to redress past injustices? What is the ongoing impact of the expulsions on families and communities today? In the stories of black families whose land and livelihood were stolen, the film illustrates the limits of the American legal system and the need for creative forms of repair. By introducing these families and the white communities who forced them out, BANISHED raises the question of responsibility for past wrongs and what is involved in righting them.[84 mins.; dir. Marco Williams] [Pitt Library – streaming]

[This is an important film that deals as much with present struggles for varied forms of reparation or at least for acknowledgement of past wrongs as with revelations about the violent processes of racial cleansing in the early twentieth century that drove so many African Americans from their land, their homes, and the communities of which they were a part. I think it’s well worth watching and discussing but I don't think it’s as relevant as some other films on the list to the immediate concerns of the summit. I therefore don’t recommend it for any lead-in series, though it might be worth showing in an extended follow-up series. It’s difficult to know if the turnout would be adversely affected by the fact that the film has recently become available on YouTube.]

*#Chavez Ravine (2004) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0383261/ -- Narrated by Cheech Marin and scored by Ry Cooder, this half-hour documentary captures how a community was betrayed by greed, political hypocrisy, and good intentions gone astray. [24mins.; dir. Jordan Mechner] [YouTube -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd7YJ1FVZK0]

[Monica recommended this and I can see why. It deals with the way people from a poor Latino community in Los Angeles were promised progressive public housing in the 1950s but ended up being displaced when the land was turned over to the Dodgers baseball team for its new stadium. The story has some striking twists, is well told, and in my view, is very moving. It offers some interesting resonances with what happened to the lower Hill and would allow us to bring Latino experiences of displacement into the picture. My only reservations are that it’s already available on YouTube and our potential audience might prefer something that’s more about the present than what happened over fifty years ago and that’s more about the Rust Belt than the Sun Belt.]

#Chocolate City (2006) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1NkfATQvj4 -- This documentary addresses the issue of gentrification of Washington, DC. Through the experiences of a number of largely black residents the film explores how the city is being altered as property prices rise and local communities are forced out of the world's most famous capital. [45 mins.; dirs.. Ellie Walton & Sam Wild] [Also see the four-minute pitch video for a documentary that’s currently being made about the state of gentrification in DC today. The film is called “Chocolate City’s Last Stand?” The producer is William Michael Cunningham, who’s featured in the video; the director is Norman Kelley -- https://vimeo.com/148123988?from=outro-local]

[This is a moving story about struggles in DC against the HOPE VI plan to replace public housing that many of the residents value with “mixed-income” housing schemes that offer only a limited amount of “affordable housing” at prices most low-income people can’t afford and thus threaten to displace most of the residents and dissolve the community bonds they’ve developed. It gives particular attention to two very impressive women, an African-American activist from one of the public-housing projects that’s under threat and a sympathetic Indian performance artist and activist who develops a one-person play to dramatize what’s at stake in the efforts to resist HOPE VI in the poorer parts of DC. I don’t think it’s ideal for a lead-in series for the Housing Summit because, sadly, it ends up being another story of people bashing their heads against a brick wall, and also because it’s now a bit dated. However, it might be worth showing in a follow-up series, perhaps by using excerpts in a session on creative uses of the arts in collective struggles over housing.]

*Class Divide (2016) -- documentary that looks at New York City's gentrification and growing inequality in a microcosm, exploring two distinct worlds that share the same Chelsea intersection – 10th Avenue and 26th Street. On one side of the avenue, the Chelsea-Elliot Houses have provided low-income public housing to residents for decades. Their neighbor across the avenue since 2012 is Avenues: The World School, a costly private school. What happens when kids from both of these worlds attempt to cross the divide? (2015, Director: Marc Levin; 74 mins.)
http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/class-divide/index.html -- Highlights the effects of hyper-gentrification and growing inequality through the microcosm of New York City’s West Chelsea neighborhood, focusing on an intersection where an elite private school sits directly across the street from low-income public housing. The final film in a trilogy about economic forces affecting ordinary people from director Marc Levin and producer Daphne Pinkerson (HBO’s “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags” and “Hard Times: Lost on Long Island”), this moving chronicle bears witness to the effects of gentrification and stagnant class mobility on young people who share the same neighborhood — yet live in very different worlds — as they try to navigate this rapidly changing landscape. [74 mins.; dir. Marc Levin]

[The documentary’s greatest strength is the pressing importance of the issue it explores: the workings of urban redevelopment and gentrification in the context of growing class polarization in the US and the wider world. It focuses on a powerful illustration of this: the juxtaposition of housing projects and an elite private school on opposite sides of the street in the West Chelsea part of Manhattan, an area where apartments are now selling for u to $20m while the average earnings of families in the projects is around $21,000 pa. And it gains some emotional force by exploring this juxtaposition mainly through the eyes of young people in the projects and the school, some of whom are very articulate about the situation, including a quite remarkable eight-year old from the projects. Global issues also surface in a couple of ways — the elite school calls itself The World School and boasts that it is training its students (whose tuition costs around $45,000 per year) to function effectively in a global economy; and about 40% of the people acquiring expensive properties in the area are either foreign or anonymous buyers. The filmmaking is OK but not striking and, like so many documentaries these days, the film doesn’t get into the broader shifts in the workings of capitalism in the US and the wider world over the last forty years that have produced the massive increases in social inequality, the increased privatization of housing markets, and the dramatic growth in speculative investment in real estate. This means that the only solutions that are addressed for the people in the projects are ones involving the individual self-advancement and/or the forging of dialogues with wealth kids from across the street. There’s only fleeting attention to collective efforts to challenge the broad forces shaping the inequalities we see. If we were to show the film, I think it could provoke very interesting discussions though it’s main drawback in terms of its relevance to what’s happening in Pittsburgh is that it portrays levels of inequality that can be found in some the world’s most expensive cities but aren’t representative of the significant but less extreme kinds of inequality affecting housing issues here.]

Detropia (2012) --https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detropia -- A documentary about the city of Detroit, Michigan. It focuses on the decline of the economy of Detroit due to long-term changes in the automobile industry, and the effects that the decline has had on the city's residents and infrastructure.The film does not feature any narration or spoken comments from the filmmakers. Instead, it primarily follows three residents of Detroit in various situations around the city, circa 2010. Interspersed is contemporary footage of different areas of Detroit shot by the filmmakers, and clips of historic footage. The three Detroiters who are profiled are video blogger Crystal Starr, nightclub owner Tommy Stephens, and United Auto Workers local President George McGregor, each of whom reflect on their own experiences and share their observations about the city, its problems, and its opportunities. Also featured are portions of MayorDave Bing's discussions with city officials and residents about the possibility of geographically consolidating Detroit residents as a cost-saving measure. A group of artists, mostly newcomers to Detroit, are shown as well, particularly Steve and Dorota Coy. The Coys, who are performance artists, are featured on the poster and DVD cover for the film.[90 mins.; dirs.. Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady] [Carnegie Library and Netflix]

[I think this film is at its best when it’s tracking the lives of its three central characters and their overlapping but somewhat different perspectives on the city, enhanced by the fact that Tommy Stephens has been a history teacher, by George McGregor’s insights as someone who has been at the forefront of efforts to defend autoworkers against huge cuts in their pay and benefits and the partially successful attempt to bring electric-car production to a Detroit plant, and by Crystal Starr’s distinctive views as a younger woman and her keen eye as a video blogger. The story about the growing presence of young artists and the illustrative scenes focused on the Coys aren’t as well integrated into the narrative as I’d like. Housing, foreclosures, and housing destruction receive some attention, as does the promotion of urban gardening, but a lot of the film is focused, quite reasonably, on the impact of decades of white flight, severe job loss for those that remain, and the difficulties local residents face in paying bills for increasingly antiquated and ineffective utilities, especially water. The emphasis seems to be mainly on capturing the look and feel of decay in visually quirky, sometimes arresting ways and not on what I understand has been the emergence of significant and inventive forms of collective resistance.]

*East of Liberty Series – http://eastofliberty.com/shop/ -- [dir. Chris Ivey]

I: A Story of Good Intentions -- The first film in a series documenting the redevelopment and gentrification of blighted community in Pittsburgh. Filmed over several years, the series of films takes a raw look at changes happening in one community reflecting a national trend. The first film, “A Story of Good Intentions” follows displaced residents from low income high rises that have been demolished for new redevelopment. Featuring interviews with residents and social examiner and author Mindy Fullilove, MD (“Root Shock”), “East of Liberty” takes a unique approach to tackling the global issue of gentrification. [84 mins.]

II: The Fear of Us -- The second film follows small business owners fighting to survive as new businesses emerge designed to cater to a different clientele unlike the ones before. A true examination of survival of the fittest. Featuring interviews with business owners and social examiner Mindy Fullilove, MD (“Root Shock”) and others, “The Fear of Us” digs deep into the issues of class and race as we continue to tackle gentrification issues in redevelopment. [104 mins.]

III: In Unlivable Times -- The third film, “In Unlivable Times” is uniquely different from the previous chapters in the “East of Liberty” series as we inject the voices of Pittsburgh youth to create an educational experience unlike others. Filled with heartfelt stories of determination and the will to succeed, “In Unlivable Times” is a definitive portrait of inner city of youth surviving through all odds. [53 mins.]

# East of Liberty (2009?) – Edited version of A Story of Good Intentions and The Fear of Us. [58 mins.; dir. Chris Ivey] [Carnegie Library]

[This will no doubt already be familiar to many people in Pittsburgh. Like the series from which it was drawn, it’s directed and written by East Liberty resident, Chris Ivey, who mobilizes relatively simply videography and many testimonials from local residents and business owners to produce a sensitive, indignant portrait of what the neighborhood was going through during the 2000s. There is some attention to the destruction of its public housing towers and the resulting displacement, fortified by brief interviews with Mindy Fullilove, one of the guest speakers at the summit, but the main focus is on the damage done to the mainly African-American small businesses by rising rents in the wake of the arrival of Home Depot, Whole Foods, and then Target, as well as the arrogant indifference or naivety of some of the city’s politicians and developers.]

El Barrio Tours (2012) -- https://www.gofundme.com/elbarriotours; http://www.americasquarterly.org/content/el-barrio-tours-- An in depth look at the phenomena of gentrification as seen through the change in the largest Puerto Rican neighborhood in the 50 states; East Harlem. Join Congressman Charlie Rangel , Edwin Torres, writer of Carlito's way, and a host of neighborhood activists, residents, and small business owners, as they debate the past, present, and future of their beloved Barrio.[28 mins., dir. Andrew J. Padilla]

[I asked Andrew if he would be willing to send me a screener of the video so that I could preview it. He said he thinks it’s already out of date and referred me instead to short videos he’s made more recently in conjunction with local videographers about the impact of urban redevelopment and gentrification on low-income Latino neighborhoods around the United States. This is part of a project he calls El Barrio Tours: Gentrification U.S.A. Unfortunately, I don’t think the two videos I was able to see are suitable for what we have in mind.]

*#Flag Wars (2003) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0359281/ -- A cinema verite documentary that follows the conflicts that arise when gay white professionals move into a black working-class neighborhood. Filmed over a four years in Columbus, Ohio, "Flag Wars" leads viewers on an eye-opening journey into a divided community. [88 mins.; dirs.. Linda Goode Bryant, Laura Poitras] [Carnegie Library]

[This is a good portrait of the tensions gentrification often provokes between established residents and wealthier newcomers. There’s also some interest, for me at least, in the fact that it’s one of the earliest pieces by Laura Poitras, who went on to make some great documentaries including the Academy-Award-winning piece, Citizenfour, about Edward Snowden. In fact, Poitras was the first person Snowden approached when he wanted to go public with his story. In this film, the gay newcomers do not come off well, almost all of them seeming horribly uninterested in talking with the existing residents about their concerns, let alone in trying to work together to address them. For our purposes, it could serve as a useful way of getting people to talk about whether people should contribute to the gentrification of poor neighborhoods and, if they do, how they should relate to their new neighbors. However, the developments the film portrays took place fifteen years ago and the way it presents them may do more to divide than foster coalition building. Moreover, like almost all the documentaries on gentrification, its tight focus on the established residents, the newcomers, and a few individual realtors means it has nothing to say about the key role so often played by big banks and development companies let alone the local ramifications of broad shifts in the workings of global capitalism since the 1970s.]

Gaining Ground: Building Community on Dudley Street (2012) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2290355/ -- In the midst of the economic meltdown, 'Gaining Ground' explores the innovative, grassroots organizing efforts of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in Boston. Over the course of two years, we watch a new generation of leaders working to prevent foreclosures and bring jobs and opportunities for young people to one of the city's most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods. DSNI was created 25 years ago when the community had been devastated by bank redlining, arson-for-profit, and illegal dumping, and has become one of the preeminent models for community-based change. [58 mins; dir. Llewellyn M. Smith] [Carnegie Library] [Sequel to Holding Ground – see below.]

[I like aspects of this follow-up to Holding Ground, especially its willingness to explore many of the tensions and ironies in the developments it portrays and its effort to highlight emerging solutions to the neighborhood’s housing problems. However, I don’t think it delves as deeply or as critically as it should into the roles played by the Salvation Army, the Kroc Foundation, and McDonald’s, the primary source of the foundation’s money, especially given the negative impact of McDonald’s on impoverished groups, their neighborhoods, their diets, and the labor market they confront, as well as the broader problem of people in poor neighborhoods increasingly being asked to invest their hopes in selective and often heavily slanted forms of private charity. This diverts attention from arguments in favor of community self-organization and public funding from the state guided by the ideas of adequate housing as a right and cooperative or communal ownership.]

Gut Renovation (2012) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2368897/ -- Charts the destruction of Williamsburg - a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY - after the city passed a re-zoning plan in 2005 which allowed developers to build luxury condos where there were once thriving industries, working-class families, and artists. The filmmaker lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and was one of the many who were forced out by the changes that occurred. [81 mins.; dir. Su Friedrich] [Carnegie Library]

*#[contextualizing interview with urban anthropologist Ida Susser (CUNY Graduate School), 39 mins. In my view, this is more useful than the documentary itself, especially in highlighting some of the broad forces at play in contemporary gentrification.] [Carnegie Library]

[This is one of quite a few documentaries focused on New York, helping replicate the disproportionate amount of academic and journalistic work on gentrification and other housing issues that focuses on the city. I think the film is quite good but it tends to give more attention to the concerns of the artists than to those of their poorer neighbors, tacitly legitimating this by implying that their interests are largely the same. In my view, Ida Susser’s comments are more useful than the film itself, especially in highlighting some of the broad forces at play in contemporary gentrification. Indeed, it might be worth pairing her comments with a shortish video on a different situation rather than showing Gut Renovation itself, especially as it’s too long to permit screening of the film itself and the interview with Susser. However, I wonder whether Susser’s comments may be too academic and “wordy” for a broad audience.]

*Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street (1996) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116542/reviews -- Nowhere else in the US has a community organization achieved the right to use eminent domain to acquire vacant land for the construction of new, affordable homes. In Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, community groups of cape verdean, latino and African American descent went from fighting their own independent battles with gangs and illegal activities to working together to form a cohesive coalition that transformed their neighborhood. The power that they generated working as a group to ensure political accountability and safety is immeasurable. The filmmakers do an excellent job of showing how years of dedication and hard work can make an extraordinary difference in the history and outcome of neighborhood. It is a case example for communities around the world. [58 mins.; dirs.. Mark Lipman & Leah Mahan] [Ronell mentioned that this is one of her favorites. [Followed by Gaining Ground – see above.] [Pitt Library – streaming]

[Ronell mentioned that this is one of her favorites and that she has screened it successfully in the past. Carl also told me that he’s shown it often in courses looking at community activism. I can see why Ronell and Carl like it so much. It offers an inspiring picture of people in a poor part of Boston building multiracial and multiethnic coalitions as they attempt to revitalize their neighborhood in ways that address local economic, social, and cultural concerns as the community defines them and to get city hall to work with them rather than impose redevelopment from above. It shows them having some notable successes, especially in gaining the right to use eminent domain, while still having a long way to go. In my view, it’s a lot better than the sequel, Gaining Ground, mainly because I’m less comfortable with the newer efforts that film portrays. I do have a couple of reservations that have nothing to do with the film itself but with its suitability for use in a lead-in series for the summit. First, it’s now twenty years old. Second, given that Ronell and Carl have shown it in the past, it might not have as much drawing power for the groups they work with as something these groups haven’t seen.]

Inside Job (2010) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1645089/ -- Inside Job provides a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia. It was made on location in the United States, Iceland, England, France, Singapore, and China. [105 mins., dir. Charles Ferguson]

[I’m ambivalent. I think we need something that provides a clear and effective overview of the finance industry’s impact on housing and jobs but I worry that this is too long, a bit too technical, too much of an insider critique, and perhaps a bit dated. Richard Wolff’s video, How Class Works, covers some of the same ground much more briefly and accessibly, and the fiction film, 99 Homes, brings the nastiness and the social costs to light in a way that’s more vivid and perhaps ultimately more compelling, though it largely skirts around the impact of the financial and real estate industries on impoverished African Americans.]

#Land of Opportunity (2010) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1658811/ -- Compiling over 7 years and 1,000 hours of filming and footage, respectively, the vérité-style documentary Land of Opportunity captures the early years of post-catastrophe New Orleans through the eyes of those most affected by its devastation. From the urban planner to the immigrant worker, the pragmatist to the activist, our protagonists represent the rich diversity of lives and stories that call New Orleans home. Through their eyes, we experience the personal and emotional impact of an unprecedented urban reconstruction process. The people in the film are examples of urban paradox: marginalized, multi-racial, moneyed or not and often contradictory. Their stories echo a universally applicable paradigm: that of ordinary people in cities and towns across the world, grappling with extraordinary circumstances much larger than themselves. [96 mins.; dir. Luisa Dantas]

[I like the way this film provides multiple perspectives on the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina by focusing on the lives and concerns of a diverse array of people, from poor local residents, many of them African-American, to unauthorized immigrant workers from Latin American and a Cuban-born, Miami-based architect hired to guide the transformation of the Gentilly neighborhood. The film highlights issues of urban redevelopment in general and access to affordable housing in particular. It is at its best, in my view, when it focuses on the efforts of poorer residents to have a voice in the redevelopment process and especially when it looks at their collective struggles to reopen a highly valued public-housing project that was closed and slated for demolition after the hurricane even though it could easily have been repaired and returned to the people previously living there. Interesting comparisons could be made here with The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, Chavez Ravine, and Chocolate City. My main reservations are, first, that it’s not only long but also, given its emphasis on multiple experiences, a bit too sprawling and ill-focused, and second, that it doesn't say as much as it could about (a) the predatory and often corrupt efforts of corporate interests, the Bush administration, and key local officials to use the effects of the hurricane to get rid of a wide range of public facilities in New Orleans (including schools as well as housing) and to facilitate rampant privatization and the permanent displacement of a significant proportion of the city’s low-income African-American population, let alone (b) how all this relates to broader transformations in the U.S. and the wider world associated with the growing emphasis on neoliberal policies and, increasingly, on neoliberal solutions to the problems these policies have helped produce or worsen. It might work as part of an extended series following the summit but I don’t think it’s a great candidate for any lead-in series.]

*My Brooklyn (2012) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2322519/ -- Director Kelly Anderson's personal journey as a Brooklyn 'gentrifier' to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. The film reframes the gentrification debate to expose the corporate actors and government policies driving displacement and neighborhood change. [85 mins.; dir. Kelly Anderson] [Pitt Library – streaming]

[I think this one of the best films on urban redevelopment that I’ve seen, mainly because it does what many others don’t do, namely situate the experiences of the people whose neighborhoods are being redeveloped in the context of both the history of housing policy in the United States and the powerful influence exerted by the big developers over both the property market and the branches of city government meant to regulate it. Indeed, Craig Wilder, one of the scholars the director interviews, says quite explicitly at one point that gentrifications isn’t principally about some people moving in and other people having to move out but instead about developers working with city officials to reshape neighborhoods as sources of greater profit, often in return for significant government tax breaks and other kinds of subsidy. I also like the fact that the film shows people organizing to try to push development in more equitable directions. My only reservation is that the director focuses mainly on the experiences of small business owners facing displacement from the spaces they rent and by extension on the interests of local residents as consumers. I would have liked to see her do more to situate this part of the story in relation to the experiences of local people as home owners and renters (other than herself) facing the threat and reality of displacement and as wage workers facing job loss or significant declines in income, especially real income in the context of what I assume are rapidly rising local prices. Also, like quite a few of the films on this list, it ends up being more of a lament than a source of encouragement, mainly because it doesn’t give much attention to collectively organized challenges and especially ones that enjoyed at least some success.]

Public Housing (1997) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0130200/ -- Renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman takes an intimate and nuanced look at the Ida B. Wells housing project in the south side of Chicago, Illinois. [200 mins.; dir. Frederick Wiseman] [Pitt – Stark Media Services]

#Rezoning Harlem: A Community Fights Against Gentrification (2008) -- Rezoning Harlem follows longtime members of the Harlem community as they fight a 2008 rezoning that threatens to erase the history and culture of their legendary neighborhood and replace it with luxury housing, offices, and big-box retail.
A shocking expose of how a group of ordinary citizens, who are passionate about the future of one of the city's most treasured neighborhoods, are systematically shut out of the city's decision-making process, revealing New York City's broken public review system and provoking discussion on what we can do about it. [41 mins.; dirs.
Natasha Florentino & Tamara Gubernat] [Pitt Library – streaming]

[This is a powerful account of community activism to protect not only minority-owned small businesses but also affordable housing. However, although the activists are impressive, the film shows them repeatedly being frustrated by elite members of the planning commission and the developers whose interests they promote so it ends up being rather depressing, more of a cautionary tale than a source of inspiration. It’s also a little bit dated.]

#Sí Se Puede: Seven Days At PAH Barcelona (2014) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caD17RKJfbc -- Do you want to know about the main anti-eviction citizen’s movement in Spain? Comando Video invites you to view this daily account of Barcelona‘s Platform for People Affected by Mortgages that portrays what a common week, and its tireless activities, could look like. Seven interviews -combined with images collected over one year- lead the viewer through the different activities performed weekly at PAH Barcelona. This documentary placed cameras at the heart of the organization to depict not only the post-housing bubble drama but most importantly the huge invisible work behind the PAH and the deep process of transformation and empowerment of those who participate in it. [52 mins.; dir. Pau Faus] [YouTube]

[I really like the story this video tells about the popular mobilization to address the housing crisis in Spain from 2008 onwards, especially in support of people facing evictions for being unable to keep up with their mortgage payments. Although PAH has become a national movement, the video focuses on the daily activities of its branch in Barcelona. It shows how PAH uses grassroots activism to provide emotional, economic, legal, and political support to people who often feel isolated and ashamed in the face of actual and threatened evictions even though the problems they face are the result of the rampant over-marketing of mortgages by the big banks until the bubble burst in 2008, the dramatic increase in unemployment and savage wage cuts that followed, and the national government’s emphasis on bailing out the banks rather than the borrowers. The video encourages us to see how developments that may seem specific to the United States have in fact been played out in broadly similar ways in many countries in the global North. It also encourages discussion about the best ways of responding collectively to these developments and in so doing provides an interesting complement to New Occupy Homes Coalition…,Fighting for Our Homes, and Movement for Justice in El Barrio. Together, videos like this highlight collective forms of mobilization against eviction and displacement that are notably absent from Matthew Desmond’s recent and widely read book, Evicted. The only drawbacks when it comes to thinking of the video as a candidate for a follow-up series aimed at a general audience are that all of the interviewees are speaking in Spanish, many of them speak quite quickly, and the subtitling not only has a hard time keeping up with what’s being said but also, written in small, white letters, can sometimes be a bit difficult to read. The film is, however, well worth considering for use in an academic setting such as a course on global housing issues, social work, or community organizing.]

*Streets of Dreams: Development without Displacement in Communities of Color (2013) -- Inspiring portraits of grassroots activists in communities of color who are using a community land trust (CLT) to preserve affordable housing and promote development without the displacement of longtime residents. By combining community ownership of land with individual ownership of homes, the CLT gives communities a powerful way to shape and secure their future, while opening the door to affordable homeownership for low-income residents. [16 mins.; dir. Mark Lipman] [Pitt Library – streaming]

[This is an effective overview of efforts to use Community Land Trusts as a way of addressing the pursuit of housing that low-income African Americans and others can really afford. It looks at current or very recent efforts in several parts of the country and packs a lot into sixteen minutes. It might be interesting to show it in conjunction with another film such as Holding Ground or several other short videos in a session on possible solutions that have a strong collective dimension.]

#The Hill: A Story of New Haven, Connecticut (2013) -- http://www.thehillfilm.com -- Set upon building a new school, the city of New Haven claims eminent domain over the Upper Hill neighborhood. While the city argues the building of the new school corresponds to a need for better school facilities, the residents of the area, mostly struggling low-income African-American families, say the decision corresponds to the city’s determination to sanitize the neighborhood in the proximity of the Yale-New Haven Hospital. Together with the help of community leaders and a civil rights lawyer, the unlikely group of neighbors decides to contest the city’s claim and take the case to federal court. The Hill is a fascinating look at the complex issues surrounding urban planning, gentrification and economic renewal. [60 mins.; dir. Lisa Molomot] [Carnegie Library]

[This is the first film on urban redevelopment that I watched this summer and it left a good enough impression for me to want to look at it again as a candidate for showing in any series we offer. Even though I wish it were about Pittsburgh’s Hill, I think it has local resonance because of its attention to the ways low-income African Americans are affected by plans for university expansion and the backing these receive from city authorities and private developers. It’s relatively short, the developments it portrays are fairly recent, and it highlights concerted efforts by community leaders to push back against the city’s plans while also raising interesting questions about the merits of legal action as a way of addressing political conflicts.]

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (2016) -- A film about the prison and its life in the American landscape. More people are imprisoned in the United States at this moment than in any other time or place in history, yet the prison itself has never felt further away or more out of sight. THE PRISON IN TWELVE LANDSCAPES is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs. [90 mins.; dir. Brett Story]

[I haven’t seen it but it could be relevant to our concerns mainly if one thinks about incarceration as one kind of forced displacement used widely and disproportionately against subordinated and exploited populations.]

#The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1788461/-- Destroyed in a dramatic and highly-publicized implosion, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex has become a widespread symbol of failure amongst architects, politicians and policy makers. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the social, economic and legislative issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and the city centers in which they resided, while tracing the personal and poignant narratives of several of the project's residents. In the post-War years, the American city changed in ways that made it unrecognizable from a generation earlier, privileging some and leaving others in its wake. The next time the city changes, remember Pruitt-Igoe. [79 mins.; dir. Chad Freidrichs]

[I think this provides some excellent insight into U.S. housing policies from the 1930s to the 1970s and their implications for residents of public housing. It uses a focus on a notorious set of projects in St. Louis to tell a powerful story about the fate of public housing in the U.S., the way its viability was actively undermined by wealthy opponents and the racially unequal impacts of deindustrialization, and the subsequent development of a mythology that uses the resulting problems to demonize both the kinds of people who lived there and the whole idea of public housing and other state efforts to mitigate structural violence. I particularly liked the way it draws on the investigative reporting of an African-American journalist who grew up in these projects and on extended interviews with several African-American ex-residents, while setting these in the context of major shifts in national and local housing policies between the 1930s and the 1970s. In these regards, it makes for interesting comparison with the shorter, Latino-oriented Chavez Ravine, with Land of Opportunity, and with Chocolate City. My only reservations concerning its suitability for a lead-in series for the summit are that it’s too focused on a past phase in the struggles over housing in the U.S. to address our most pressing needs regarding the present and that it may be a bit too long for people with lots of demands on their time, especially given that we want to follow our screenings with extended discussion. However, It might be a good candidate for any follow-up series.]

*#Third Ward TX (2007) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0999915/ -- The left-for-dead Third Ward neighborhood in Houston's inner-city stirs to new life when a group of African-American artists found Project Row Houses. A step ahead of city demolition crews, they clean up around a row of condemned shotgun houses and do a "Drive-by" exhibit. Eventually, they purchase 22 houses on two blocks for a song. Then they do something really unusual. They ask the community what it needs-and listen to the answers. Third Ward TX explores how this tidy little row of born-again houses, glowing in the Texas sun, has become home to cutting-edge public art and a home-grown challenge to traditional notions of community development. By 2006, big development moves in, threatening to destroy the very qualities that make the neighborhood so vital. The bold and creative response of Project Row Houses is a gambit that just might work. [56 mins.; dir. Andrew Garrison] [Pitt – Stark Media Services]

[I like the fact that this film looks at efforts to produce constructive, collectively developed solutions to the problems of a poor neighborhood dealing first with neglect and then with the threat of profit-driven redevelopment. Moreover, it’s focused on African Americans and it’s relatively short. In all these respects, it’s similar to The Hill, but I don’t think it works quite as well for our purposes. My main reservation is that the model the artists offer could only work elsewhere as one part of a broader set of community responses and the film doesn’t really examine what these should involve or how art projects can be made integral to them.]

FICTIONAL FILMS (many based on real events)

#99 Homes (2014) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2891174/ -- A recently unemployed single father struggles to get back his foreclosed home by working for the real estate broker who is the source of his frustration. (Fiction.) [112 mins.; Ramin Bahrani] [Carnegie Library]

[This is the best fiction film I’ve seen on the ways the financial crisis that exploded in 2008 has affected people’s access to housing and jobs. It’s better in this regard than the overly slick The Big Short and better than Margin Call, which is good but focuses almost entirely on the inside workings of a thinly disguised version of Lehmann brothers in the immediate lead-up to the firm’s collapse. It may also be more effective than the documentary, Inside Job, at making the nastiness and the social costs vivid and emotionally compelling. It brings to a wider audience much of the sensitivity to the concerns of marginalized members of the working-class that Bahrani displayed in two earlier independent movies, Chop Shop and Man Push Cart. However, there are several aspects of the film that may limit it’s value for our purposes, especially given our desire to involve people facing dire housing problems in Pittsburgh, most of whom are African-American or Latino. It looks mainly at realtors trying to make quick profits from the sudden proliferation of foreclosures, pushes the role of the big banks and development companies into the background, and largely ignores the experiences of impoverished African Americans and Latinos. All the films central characters are white.]

Cathy Come Home (1966) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059020/ -- A 1966 BBC television play about homelessness, it tells the story of a young couple, Cathy and Reg. Initially their relationship flourishes; they have a child and move into a modern home. When Reg is injured and loses his job, they are evicted by bailiffs, and they face a life of poverty and unemployment, illegally squatting in empty houses and staying in shelters for the homeless. Finally, Cathy has her children taken away by social services. A 1998 //Radio Times// readers' poll voted it the "best single television drama" and a 2000 industry poll rated it as the second best British television program ever made. [75 mins.; dir. Ken Loach] [YouTube.]

[This is a brilliant example of activism via the use of social realism as a form that thinly fictionalizes real experiences and makes the audience feel immersed in the midst of people’s everyday experiences as they’re actually lived, not as commercial C and the film industry commonly portray them. Shown during prime time on one of the two C channels available in Britain at the time, it was seen by a large number of people and had a profound impact on the public debate about affordable housing and employment though, sadly, rather less impact than many hoped on the law and government policies. It’s too old and the world it portrays is too unfamiliar to many U.S. viewers to warrant showing it in connection with the summit but it’s still worth watching for anyone interested in the underside of the so-called “swinging sixties” in Britain and/or in the use of the visual arts to address urgent social issues. It’s generally available on YouTube.]

Little Men (2016)-- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4919484/ -- A new pair of best friends have their bond tested by their parents' battle over a dress shop lease. (Fiction – in context of gentrification in NYC) [85 mins.; dir. Ira Sachs]

[I was quite disappointed in it as a film in itself and as an exploration of gentrification, especially in the light of the gushing reviews it’s received and the claims in some of these reviews that it provides a powerful critique of housing issues in the U.S. today. It doesn’t.]

Margin Call (2011) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1615147/ -- A respected financial company is downsizing and one of the victims is the risk management division head, who was working on a major analysis just when he was let go. His protégé completes the study late into the night and then frantically calls his colleagues in about the company's financial disaster he has discovered. What follows is a long night of panicked double checking and double dealing as the senior management prepare to do whatever it takes to mitigate the debacle to come even as the handful of conscientious comrades find themselves dragged along into the unethical abyss. [107 mins., J.C. Chandor]

[This is a well-made drama about of the collapse of a slightly fictionalized version of Lehman Brothers that leads the audience through the various tiers of the company from the bottom to the top. In the process, it provides some interesting insight into social and cultural dynamics of Wall Street and into how they helped bring about the second largest crisis in capitalism after the Great Depression. However, the film doesn’t focus enough on what Wall Street’s pursuit of profit meant for ordinary people’s jobs and housing to be worth showing in connection with the summit.]

The Big Short (2015) -- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596363/ -- Based on the book by Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball, Liar's Poker and Flash Boys, among others), the true story of a handful of investors who bet against the US mortgage market in 2006-7. Through their own research they discovered that the US mortgage backed securities market was a bubble about to burst, and they invested accordingly. What they didn't initially know was how structurally flawed the MBS system was, the level of corruption in the market...and the impact on the average person when the bubble burst. [130 mins.; Adam McKay.]

[An interesting attempt to illuminate the overlapping worlds of finance explored by Inside Job, Margin Call, and 99 Homes through the use of dark humor. In my view, though, it’s a bit too slick for its own good. I also found it difficult to distinguish between the misogyny of the world the film was trying to portray and the attitude of the filmmakers themselves.]

YOUTUBE VIDEOS – short videos; if a long documentary or fiction film is available on YouTube, I’ve indicated that in the entry for it.





Take Tha House Back Official Music Video--Detroit Music Video wins Best Hip Hop Video at the American Music Video Awards; explores tax foreclosures and gentrification

*#Desperate Households (2008) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo0rYhl0swU --This year, millions of homes in the US will be repossessed. Wall Street was aware of the risks involved with sub-prime lending but chose to ignore them. No ethics, just money- here is a story of greed and recklessness. In California, the sub prime crisis has hit homeowners full on. Repossessions have become routine and the foreclosure rate is still accelerating. Neat façades and tidy gardens can't prevent houses being sold for almost half of what they cost a year ago. Pressed for time and money, owners are torn out of their homes: "It's like leaving your children"says Rob. He is hoping the bank will accept a quick sale and forgive the loss, but this is unlikely. Most are made to wait until they default on repayment, which wrecks their credit record. Former bankers reveal how low interest rates were meant to boost the economy. Banks looked for ways to make profit despite low rates and chased high-risk mortgages that would pay 8 or 9%, ignoring the consequences for borrowers if prices fell and interest rates rose again: "There's no perception of the guy in some tiny little house in Detroit or in Philadelphia or in Stockton who basically might be losing their home."Now that the system has failed, banks are less ready to lend money and this impacts on the entire economy. Families lose their homes, businesses fail; Wall Street gambled and the world has to pay. [24 mins.] [Journeyman Films]

[This is a very good Australian C account of the foreclosure crisis in the U.S., the role of the big banks in creating it, and its devastating effects on people faced with losing their homes. It visits Stockton, California, the city that in 2008 was suffering the highest foreclosure rates in the U.S. It goes to New York to find out about why the crisis arose and the contribution of the big banks. And it goes briefly to Sacramento to indicate how the housing crisis undermines government income and thus its capacity to provide public services. It is a very good alternative to Inside Job because it focuses primarily on the foreclosure part of the broader financial crisis (with a brief allusion to the student-debt crisis), it pays more attention to the experiences of people facing foreclosure, and it’s a lot shorter. It complements For Sale (it’s difficult to decide which is more effective) and it would combine nicely with How Class Works as well as videos about collective responses such as New Occupy Homes Coalition… or Fighting for our Homes. A minor drawback is that it was made at a very early stage in the crisis so it’s not fully up to date.]

*#Fighting For Our Homes (2009) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJGTuqciTGo -- The housing crisis is not just a problem for families facing foreclosure it is a problem for every homeowner in America. As long as foreclosures persist, home values will keep going down, and everyone loses. We are collecting stories from people all over the country who have been hit by the housing crisis so we can show what is really happening on Main Street and we need your help. Have you been affected by the housing meltdown? Foreclosed on? Underwater? Trapped in a predatory loan? Do you know anyone else whose life has been turned upside down by the collapse of the real estate market? Record your story, or the story of a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor, and send it to us. [6 mins.] [Don’t go to the website highlighted in the video. It doesn’t have anything to do with the efforts described above.]

[This is a good short introduction to collective efforts to prevent foreclosures, focused on Latinos from Pacoima, in LA’s San Fernando Valley, and broader efforts across the LA area. It emphasizes that the government bailout helped the big banks but not the people who had been victimized by the high-pressure and sometimes fraudulent marketing of sub-prime, adjustable-rate mortgages. It also suggests that it’s much better to combat these problems collectively than on one’s own. It would add a more constructive side to the powerful stories told in How Class Works and For Sale. However, because it’s so short, it doesn’t provide any detail about what the collective efforts it describes are actually doing. In this regard, New Occupy Homes Coalition… may be better.]

*For Sale: The American Dream (2012) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3rzN42HE00 -- The US' housing bubble burst nearly six years ago, but the worst may be yet to come. After a landmark settlement, the major banks have lifted a freeze on foreclosures and government relief has been too small to make a difference. Public housing budgets have been slashed, leaving larger numbers of people with no place to call home. The line between home ownership and homelessness is growing ever more blurry, but neither President Barack Obama nor Governor Mitt Romney have made housing a major campaign issue. Meanwhile, popular anger is rising over the perceived impunity of the banks and some have found innovative ways of fighting back in an age of austerity. Fault Lines travels to Chicago and California to see how people at the frontlines of the crisis are confronting the collapse of the American dream. [25 mins.]

[I think this is a very good introduction to the foreclosure crisis in the U.S. as it has intensified since 2008 and the reasons behind the crisis. It covers a lot of the issues addressed in a fictional way by 99 Homes and does so much more briefly, with the added punch of documentary realism. It uses comments by the famous radical geographer, David Harvey, to set the U.S. crisis in a global context and to help explain how it came about but his insights are delivered more briefly than in the YouTube video, Slums and Skyscrapers, and also more accessibly, partly because of the primary emphasis on the experiences of people directly involved in the foreclosure process and the consequent displacements. If we wanted to have a session on the foreclosure crisis in the lead-up to the summit, I think this could be combined quite effectively with the short Richard Wolff YouTube video, How Class Works, which uses foreclosure and the broader crisis of genuinely affordable housing to illustrate its very accessible introduction to capitalist class dynamics, and with either New Occupy Homes Coalition… or Fighting for our Homes.]

*#Gentrification and What Can Be Done to Stop It (2014) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMz1x5_yF2Q -- Loretta Lees, a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, tells us that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the term ‘gentrification’. Referring to newly labeled Midtown London (aka Holborn), with its influx of swanky hotels and new apartments, she asks: ‘Where do the people who get replaced go?’ She believes there are better creative and people-led solutions – self builds, co-ops, community and trusts -- all of which would help keep housing affordable in mixed income communities. Loretta Lees was part of a team that recently launched the Anti-Gentrification Toolkit for Council Tenants in London and is co-organizer of the Urban Salon: a London forum for architecture, cities and international urbanism (www.theurbansalon.org). She is also the co-author of Planetary Gentrification (2016) and the co-editor of Global Gentrifications (2015). [19 mins.]

[I don’t think the presentation is electrifying but Lees is one of the most prominent scholars of gentrification in the world and what she says is valuable in a number of ways. She begins by providing an overview of gentrification, talks briefly about it as something that’s being globalized, and offers a useful way of distinguishing key variants. She highlights the role of big money in most gentrification processes, critiques the move from public housing to “mixed-income” developments, tracks briefly the dispersal of people displaced by such developments, and, perhaps most importantly, goes beyond lamenting the harm that gentrification often does to explore or at least list some creative alternatives. Moreover, although she focuses on gentrification in London and some of what she says may seem obscure to people unfamiliar with the city, her emphasis on the fate of “council estates” is simply a British way of talking about the fate of public housing and most of what she says about alternatives such as the refurbishment of public housing, Community Land Trusts, cooperatives, and community housing associations is relevant well-beyond the London context. In relation to the summit, it may be worth noting that one of our guest speakers, Ernesto Lopez-Morales, is a co-author with Lees and Hyun Bang Shin of the recent book, Planetary Gentrification and a co-editor with them of the recent collection, Global Gentrifications.]



Gentrification: The Atlanta Way (2015) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MOdH8iuet8 -- Is it ever okay to cut off your finger to save your hand? In this talk about gentrification, filmmaker King Williams shares the story of gentrification in Atlanta and the challenges that arose due to the decisions that were made. King Williams is both a New York City and Atlanta based filmmaker, who from 2011-2012 interned under the tutelage of director Spike Lee. Williams is currently working on 3 separate projects: his debut film, ‘The Atlanta Way’ due this summer, his film blog ‘Free Film University’, and a debut novel to be released in fall of 2015. With a passion for community engagement, Williams also splits his time to support the non-profit My Birthday Fundraiser in NYC and his father's business Edwin Williams Music focusing on Jazz appreciation. [12 mins.]

[This is a very accessible Tedx talk delivered to students at Georgia State University. However, in my view, Williams’ efforts to make things intelligible lead him not just to simplify too much but also to significantly distort some key issues. I think he addresses the struggles over gentrification and displacement in Atlanta more effectively in the rough cut of The Atlanta Way, also on YouTube.]

*How Class Works (2011) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGOA2WedIQo -- Richard Wolff is an economist who has studied class issues for more than 40 years. In this animation and audio presentation, he explains what class is all about and applies that understanding to the foreclosure crisis of 2007--2011. He argues that class concerns the "way our society splits up the output [and] leaves those who get the profits in the position of deciding and figuring out what to do with them... We all live with the results of what a really tiny minority in our society decides to do with the profits everybody produces." As you watch and listen, consider how investment decisions in neighborhoods, over transportation, school facilities, parks, location of grocery stores, quality of affordable housing, etc. are influenced by powerful interests and how they affect the quality of life for large segments of the population. This video was produced by the National Association of County and City Public Health Officals (NACCHO) as a part of the Roots of Health Inequality Project -- http://www.rootsofhealthinequity.org/. [13 mins.]

[Richard Wolff, one of the world’s best know radical economists, presents his ideas about capitalist class relations and the foreclosure crisis along with an animation illustrating what he’s saying. He devotes the first four minutes to a simplified and very accessible account of how radicals understand capitalist class processes and relations, especially as they operate in the United States. He then devotes the remainder of the video to illustrating his argument by reference to the housing bubble and what happened when it burst. In my view, this is a very effective introduction to the reasons behind the foreclosure crisis and a pretty good introduction to what radicals mean by critical class analysis. It’s a lot shorter and more critical than Inside Job and a lot less technical than Slums and Skyscrapers. It could be combined effectively with a short report on foreclosures and evictions, either For Sale or Desperate Households, and with a short video on collective challenges to these processes, perhaps New Occupy Homes Coalition…or Fighting for our Homes. The only drawback is that it focuses solely on the workings of capitalism in the United States, failing to provide the global perspective offered by David Harvey in Slums and Skyscrapers.]

#Million Dollar Shack: Trapped in Silicon Valley's Housing Bubble (2015) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBjXUBMkkE8 -- Our family has been priced out! Has the Bay Area gone crazy? Real estate prices have doubled in the last few years, a tent in the backyard can rent for $900/month, foreign investors are driving up prices, evictions and rent hikes are everywhere, people are commuting longer than ever, the middle class is disappearing, empty investment homes are everywhere, and locals are leaving in record numbers. The worst part? Some people are calling it "progress". [23 mins.; dirs.: Michelle Joyce & Steve Fyffe]

[Probably not something we want to show in any lead-in series for the Housing Summit but it is a good way of making clear that the current housing crisis in the United States is tied to the development of global speculation in real estate and that it negatively affects not only minoritized low-income populations but also, and increasingly, white members of the so-called “middle class.” I worked for most of the 1980s with low-income Latino immigrants in the area on which the video focuses and have continued to track what’s been happening to them since I moved away. I can attest to the enormous problems regarding housing and displacement they have face as a result of successive waves of urban redevelopment and high-tech gentrification. I wonder whether this might be worth considering for a follow-up series.]

*#Movement for Justice in El Barrio: Fighting Gentrification (2010?) -- Part I -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtoT8jA4pW8; Part II -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EUfnETnulg -- Movement for Justice in El Barrio, inspired by the Zapatistas and adherents of The Other Campaign, have had incredible success fighting gentrification in East Harlem as the rest of New York falls prey to property developers and corrupt politicians. Here's how they did it. [17 mins. in total]

[This two-part video focuses on a radical movement that, since 2004, has been struggling against wealthy property companies operating in East Harlem and the local politicians who support them. Drawing on the example of the Zapatistas in Mexico, it emphasizes participatory democracy from below through tenants’ councils and community meetings to challenge landlords who fail maintain their rental properties and then seek to raise rents and evict working-class tenants, contributing to the broad processes of gentrification and displacement affecting Latino immigrants and other low-income residents in the neighborhood. Partly in response to the fact that several of the property companies operate in a variety of cities and countries and partly in recognition of the many countries represented among the working class in East Harlem, the movement has developed national and transnational ties, linking its efforts to the struggles of other groups around the world that are trying to help people obtain genuinely affordable housing in the communities where they live. It also argues that the ultimate source of the global housing crisis is not bad landlords and malleable politicians but neoliberal capitalism as a system. The video thus offers an interesting provocation to discuss and debate about the relationship between bottom-up and top-down organizing strategies and between ones that focused solely on local conditions and others that seek to identify global developments and build transnational connections. My main reservations about showing it in connection with the Housing Summit are that the video quality is serviceable but not great, the piece consists almost entirely of one activist explaining what the movement is about as he tours the neighborhood, the explanations of the movements’ successes are, given the brevity of the video, quite truncated, and some people – however regrettably – might be put off by the fact that the activist speaks solely in subtitled Spanish.]

Narvik: The Small Norwegian Town Struggling to Cope After the Global Financial Crisis (2008) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqtB4nvgpcs -- In the sleepy town of Narvik, the global economic meltdown has caused havoc. Finding itself caught in a spiral of deceit and debt, people are considering leaving town as public services struggle to stay open. There seems to be no place, however small, that hasn’t been affected by the downturn in the US economy. This small seaport town of Narvik is home to only 14,000 people but it has become another victim of high-risk sub prime mortgage lending. The local council agreed to this loan lemonthat was sold to them by an Oslo based brokerage company, which is owned by 78 different banks including Citigroup. According to the local political opponent to the mayor the town has lost at least 200 million Norwegian krone (approx $35million)and public services such as schools and nursing homes are facing closure. [13 mins.] [Journeyman C]

[This short video, made for Australian C, gives a sense of how the big global banks’ efforts to sell increasingly risky loans, their seemingly deceptive marketing practices, and the resulting financial crisis led to significant harm even in a remote town in Norway. It’s an interesting way of getting a handle on the global reach of the crisis and the activities that produced it though I don’t think it’s worth considering for any lead-in or follow-up series for the Housing Summit.]

*#New Occupy Homes Coalition Links Homeowners, Activists in Direct Action to Halt Foreclosures (2011) -- A loose-knit coalition of activists known as the "Occupy Homes" are working to stave off pending evictions by occupying homes at risk of foreclosure when tenants enlist their support. The movement has recently enjoyed a number of successes. Democracy Now! speaks with Monique White, a Minneapolis resident who is facing foreclosure and recently requested the help of Occupy Minneapolis. Now two dozen of its members are occupying her home in order to stave off eviction. Also interviewed is Nick Espinosa, an organizer with Occupy Minneapolis, and Max Rameau, a key organizer with Take Back the Land who for the past five years has worked on direct-actions that reclaim and occupy homes at risk of foreclosure. "The banks are actually occupying our homes," Rameau says. "This sets up for an incredible movement where we have a one-two punch. On the one hand, we're occupying them on their turf, and on the other, we're liberating our own turf so human beings can have access to housing — rather than them sitting vacant so that corporations can benefit from them one time in the future." [15 mins.] [Democracy Now!]

[This tells an important story about the role of the Occupy movement in one of several collective responses around the U.S. to the foreclosure crisis. It allows us to hear from African-American and Latino homeowners facing foreclosure, to learn about organizing strategies and tactics by the Take Back the Land and the Occupy Homes coalition, and to find out how the banks and police were responding as of November 2011. The Take Back the Land movement is scheduled to be a focus of discussion at the summit. The only limitation is that the video consists almost entirely of “talking-head” interviews, which some viewers might not find as effective as a visually more striking documentary format.]

*#North Side Coalition for Fair Housing (2014) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AtLiGrvCcs-- Ronell Guy describes the problems reagarding access to affordable housing in Pittsburgh, especially for women, and what the Coalition is doing to address them. [5 mins.] [See also the 2015 clip with Ronell and Laura Bivins on the Coalition’s Walk for Peace and its focus on the national increase in homicides of women -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjRs97MJT6k -- 5 mins.]

*#Slums and Skyscrapers: Space, Housing and the City Under Neoliberalism (2015) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-3WcrQy8K4 -- A brief talk by David Harvey, one of the best known academic analysts of neoliberal capitalism, especially regarding its impact on real estate, housing, and urban space, and also one of the leading advocates of the right to the city. From the Dangerous Times Festival. [17-minue talk followed by 53 mins. of Q & A; 70 mins. in total]

[In my view, Harvey’s 17-minute talk is an excellent starting point for thinking about the global forces that may be at play in specific local developments regarding housing, which is particularly important given the difficulty I’ve had locating videos that provide a global framing. I would certainly consider using it in an academic course. However, Harvey’s language and perspective are more familiar to scholars working on urban issues than to most members of the general public and I’ve been told that his presentation could thus feel a bit alien and alienating to a general audience.]

What We Don’t Understand about Gentrification (2015) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqogaDX48nI -- Gentrification is a term that people throw around a lot, but it’s often oversimplified as neighborhood revitalization. In an enlightening talk, urban planning scholar Stacey Sutton shows us the true costs of gentrification. Stacey Sutton teaches at Columbia University. She thinks deeply about our common misconceptions around gentrification. This talk was given on Saturday, November 1, 2014 at TEDxNewYork. [14 mins.]

#The Atlanta Way: Rough Cut (2011) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa5n_ZivShE -- This is an early look at the 'rough' cut of the film, meaning the film is in the process of being completed and the filmmakers are deciding to share some of this footage with fans of the project. [35 mins.; dir. King Williams]

[I understand that a ninety-minute version was completed in 2015 but I haven’t been able to see it yet. This “rough cut” preview is, indeed, somewhat rough but it does give some moving insights into the processes by which Atlanta was, by about 2010, on the verge of becoming the first city in the world to intentionally remove all of the public housing within the boundaries of the city and what that was meaning for local, low-income residents. It also relates recent developments to the earlier phase of displacement associated with arrival of the Olympic Games in 1996, thus encouraging comparisons with the impact of Dodgers’ Stadium on Chavez Ravine in LA and of the Penguins on the lower Hill here in Pittsburgh. (See Carl Redwood’s speech at a rally outside the Consol Center, also on YoutTube.)]

*#The Hill District's Carl Redwood on May Day (2012) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JXao7vLEG -- Occupy Pittsburgh and a variety of socialist, anarchist and labor activists pause during a march on May Day at the Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Carl Redwood, chair of the Hill District Consensus Group, talks about the interplay between public subsidies for the Center's construction, development rights on adjoining land and parking revenue together with concessions, pledges, and promises and intentions to Hill District community. He also touts the "Dollar a Car" campaign to claw back a revenue stream for community development. [10 mins.]

[Carl speaking informally to a gathering of Occupy people and others with this usual clarity and critical force about the way the Penguins’ development activities in the lower Hill have raked in lots of money for the team and its related companies but repeatedly harmed the lives of local residents, reneged on promise about community benefits, and demonstrated a demeaning approach to local histories and ways of the life in their decisions about what to honor outside their stadium and how much to spend on doing so. Might go together nicely with Chavez Ravine and the rough cut of The Atlanta Way, which both deal with the impact of the publicly subsidized development of sports stadiums on low-income residents and their access to housing.]

*#Zombies from Wall Street (Has Wall Street Created Another Housing Crisis?) (2016) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V1IMBzH2J8 -- A wind from Wall Street destroyed the once-proud neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio, and hope has vanished from America's former industrial heartland. But ten years on, the worst is yet to come. Since the 2007 sub-prime crisis, an exodus of families ruined by the banks has drained Cleveland's life-blood. Communities declined and family homes are now scarred by the evidence of violent crime. Like many Cleveland residents, politician Jim Rokakis felt helpless against the power of global markets: “A lot of us raised our voices and we screamed and we waved and we said there’s a train wreck coming. Well the train wreck came”. The city has changed beyond recognition. As Police Chief Brandon Kutz says, "We’ve had a lot of homicides this year, we’ve had a lot of people shot. We’ve had a lot of citizens afraid and scared. It’s a serious issue”. Those who remain have few choices. Homes are worthless, and long-gone owners are stalked for maintenance costs they can't afford. Resident Stephanie Benifield says, "People are dying and people are just abandoning the homes", because "they can’t afford the homes and the upkeep." For Rokakis, the fight against the banks has been lost. "This was a war", he said. "We lost the war and what we’re doing now... this clean-up is basically burying the dead”. From Journeyman Pictures. [28 mins.]

[This is a very accessible account of how housing in low-income neighborhoods continues to be eroded a decade after the housing bubble burst by the policies of big banks and real-estate speculators, domestic and foreign, large and small, as well as by the failure of government to intervene adequately in support of local residents. It focuses on Cleveland and in so doing allows for some interesting comparisons with what’s happened in Pittsburgh in the wake of deindustrialization and its uneven impacts in class, race, and gender terms. My main reservation is that, despite featuring some admirable people who have been trying to push back against the continuing waves of damage, the video’s story is ultimately pretty depressing.]