The documentary City for Sale and the book In Defense of Housing are perfect companions to demonstrate the broken nature of housing markets.
The book provides an exhaustive analysis laced with examples from both sides of the story. On the one hand, the authors trace housing as a source of wealth and income for the lucky few. The most extreme cases being super-prime luxury homes, developed and bought as offshore investments, that are easily converted into money through loans, mortgages and complex financial transactions, with developers, investors and banks profiting. The heavily subsidised homeownership fetish of many countries is also criticised, just as far-reaching deregulation, the idea that rising housing prices are good, and the abstract financialisation of living space (“no doubt some canny financial innovators are already working on the securitisation of rent-to-rent housing or the pooling of income streams from subletting”). On the other hand, showing figures of numerous cities and countries, detailing destructive housing policies and describing chilling stories of people on the losing end of the game, Madden and Marcuse demonstrate how the growing perception and functioning of housing as real estate exacerbates both inequality and individual personal crisis.
For people dismissing In Defense of Housing as anti-capitalist pessimism, for those who prefer a visual story, or for anyone interested in the urban housing game and its players, City for Sale is the documentary to watch. For four years, filmmaker Andreas Wilcke observed Berlin’s real estate market, following and interviewing key actors in the housing drama. The result is an astonishing mosaic story that has the power to amuse viewers and make them grimace, often simultaneously.
The film features investors, developers, real estate agents, politicians, residents, protesters and househunters, its mosaic edit illuminating the stark contrasts of the ‘dynamism’ of Berlin’s evolving housing market. Depending on who is talking, the same Berlin can suddenly change. One moment it is a vibrant, up-and-coming city that is getting prettier by the day, a perfect place to move to and invest in. The next minute Berlin is under pressure, losing its social and cultural face, and making it harder for people to find a home or even to survive.
The documentary City for Sale will be screened at the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, which takes place from 4 to 8 October 2017. The programme can be found online.