Why are cities so unaffordable? A crowdfunded film finds out

The film “Push” follows Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, as she meets with people from Barcelona to Toronto, who have been evicted or forced to move from their homes and neighbourhoods.

For filmmaker Fredrik Gertten, it is fitting that he is crowdfunding part of the money needed for his new documentary that explores why housing in most major cities is becoming unaffordable for residents.

In the film “Push”, Gertten follows Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, as she meets with people from Barcelona to Toronto, who have been evicted or forced to move from their homes and neighbourhoods.

The Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the film, which is scheduled to be released early next year, has garnered about half the $50,000 Gertten aims to raise, the campaign page showed.

“It’s very stressful to crowdfund, but it’s also a way to get people from everywhere involved and talking about the issue, which is the global housing crisis,” Gertten told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

“We set out to explore why housing in cities is becoming so unaffordable, and Leilani was our vehicle to highlight the global pattern. Everywhere, residents feel they are being pushed out, and it’s not just because of gentrification or inflation.”

You can’t treat housing like any old commodity. Gold is a commodity; housing is not. It’s a human right

Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur

Globally, at least 150 million people, or about 2 per cent of the population, are homeless, according to UN-Habitat, the UN agency for urban development and human settlements. More than a fifth of the population lacks adequate housing.

With at least 55 per cent of the world’s population living in urban centres, homelessness is ever more apparent, from Los Angeles to Auckland.

Governments are under pressure to boost housing affordability and fix the growing problem of urban homelessness, with measures including limits on foreign buyers and more subsidised housing for the poor.

Farha, an outspoken advocate for the implementation of the right to housing, said housing has become a financial instrument primarily for the benefit of investors, driving inequality in cities.

“The financialisation of housing is completely contrary to the human rights obligations of governments,” she said.

“You can’t treat housing like any old commodity. Gold is a commodity; housing is not. It’s a human right,” she said in emailed comments.

Farha said she agreed to be in the documentary because it “has the capacity to reach audiences” that she would not.

Gertten’s previous film, Bikes vs Cars, also explored how unliveable cities are becoming for many residents.

The Swede said the “commodification of housing” is forcing long-time residents to move, while leaving buildings empty in cities from London to Sydney.

“Cities no longer work for the benefit of their citizens. Our neighbourhoods face a threat from faceless landlords who are financial companies and developers,” he said.

“We need to understand what is going on to be able to talk about it and push back.”

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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