Why can't we afford to live in our cities?

PUSH is a new documentary from award-winning director Fredrik Gertten, investigating why we can’t afford to live in our own cities anymore. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition to a safe and healthy life. But in cities all around the world, having a place to live is becoming more and more difficult. Who are the players and what are the factors that make housing one of today’s most pressing world issues?  

In Harlem, New York, we meet a man who spends 90% of his income on a flat. Soon, the two-bedroom will cost 3600 USD per month. His 1.700-unit housing project has just been bought by a huge private equity fund. In Barcelona, Ahmed and his family are the last left in their building where all other apartments are sealed off. The new owner has been pushing all of their neighbours out. In London, people talk about ‘bank boxes in the sky’; new condo buildings and flats sold on international fairs as investment pieces. Now many apartments in these shiny new buildings stand empty.

Enter Leilani Farha, of Ottawa, Canada. She has just sent her kids off to school when she receives an email with a startling graph. It shows the extreme difference between housing prices and wage development over a twenty year period. In the Greater Toronto Area, housing prices have increased at three times the rate of income. With a background in advocacy for the homeless, Leilani has for the past three years been the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, with the right to hold governments accountable if they don’t meet the human rights obligations in the UN Human Rights Charter.

She believes that if we really want to make change to ensure people can live in the city – all people; rich, middle and poor, brown, black and white, young and old – then we have to be  able to hold someone responsible for what is going on. She wants to confront the very idea of what the experts call the “financialisation” of the housing market. “There’s a huge difference between housing as a commodity and gold as a commodity”.

Push will follow Leilani’s quest to understand the radical change that cities all over the world are now being confronted with. 

what is the crisis?

Housing affordability is decreasing at a record pace. The local working and middle classes have become unable to afford housing in major cities across the world. London, New York, Hong Kong, Toronto, Tokyo, Valparaiso, Sydney, Melbourne, Caracas, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm… the list seems endless. People are being pushed out of their very own homes – because living in them has become unaffordable.

Young people are getting trapped in a cycle of renting apartments that are becoming less and less affordable. Working class and lower income communities face evictions and are left without a place to live. The high cost of housing pushes people into poverty and homelessness. In the UK and US, for instance, homelessness is increasing by alarming rates. More often than before, it is children and families that end up without a home. The problem is even worse in the Global South, where the number of people living in informal housing is projected to exceed 1 billion by 2020. However, the crisis also puts stress on the middle and upper-middle classes. In London, for example, even a doctor’s salary is not necessarily enough to buy a home.

This isn’t a natural, inevitable development. It can change.
Residents should be able to afford to live in their own cities. It is time to recognise that housing is a human right, not a commodity. Let’s push back.

CHARACTERS

Leilani Farha

With a background in advocacy for the homeless, Leilani has for the past three years been the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, with the right to hold governments accountable if they don’t meet the human rights obligations in the UN Human Rights Charter. She believes that if we really want to make change to ensure people can live in the city, then we have to be able to hold someone responsible for what is going on.

Saskia Sassen

Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, has studied the impacts of globalization for 40 years and coined the term “global cities”.
Sassen helps us to understand why an empty apartment is sometimes a better asset than its use as a home. She describes the investments in housing as high-end land grabs.

Joseph Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economy, explains how the private equity firms managed to grow throughout every crisis in the financial system, ending up becoming the biggest landlords in the world. Stiglitz also explains the big shift in history when the deregulation of the financial markets opened the floodgates for investors.

Roberto Saviano

Roberto Saviano, Italian journalist and author of Gomorra, was forced into hiding after exposing the business side of organized crime. “Tax havens are where criminal capitalism and legal capitalism meet and merge. Mafia organizations were the first to create and facilitate money-laundering mechanisms through tax havens.”

TEAM

Fredrik Gertten
Director

Margarete Jangard
Producer

Jamie Kastner
Co-Producer

Laura Kastner
Co-Producer

Iris Ng
DOP

Erik Bäfving
Editor

Janice d’Avila
DOP

CONTACTS

Brought to you by WG Film AB
Västergatan 22a, 21121 Malmö, Sweden
Phone +46 (0)40 78150
Email: film@wgfilm.com