"99 Homes,” a film by Ramin Bahrani, 2015
This is a companion to the film, “The Big Short” which did not dwell on the foreclosures or unemployment caused by the housing bubble. Instead, ’99 Homes” takes you into the foreclosure industry in 2010 in Orlando, Florida. It follows the story of one family that is evicted, much to their surprise. The lead character who is evicted, Nash, in desperation then goes to work for the real estate ‘mogul’ Carver who evicted him – eventually putting Nash himself in an impossible situation. Nash is a working-class carpenter who used to do building work until the building boom ended, but is over his head in this situation. His values ultimately dominate his desperation.
Nash eventually takes over from Carver doing evictions and comes face to face with all the misery caused by the foreclosures – an aged man who has no relatives and nowhere to stay; families with children who have a ‘lawyer’ and think they have a stay or are appealing their eviction; angry people with guns. One man has proof his house sale was never advertised – so Nash has to forge an affidavit of publication. In the real world the housing courts in Florida processed these illegal foreclosures – fraudulently robo-signed paperwork, missing deeds and mortgages, no proof of ownership by the banks – with nary a hiccup. We see scenes of the 1 minute ‘hearings’ after which the banks are given control.
Allegations of falsified documents were at the heart of an investigation by state attorneys general and the federal government into foreclosure abuses by Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial's GMAC mortgage unit. Orange County, Florida, where Orlando is, was cited as one of the worst.
Then the thug sheriffs are sent out to enforce the evictions for the bank’s representative, while a crew of impoverished workers loads all the evicted family's possessions on the boulevard, with a cruel removal deadline of 24 hours. Families are forced to find emergency housing, and Nash’s family ends up in a rundown and noisy motel full of other evictees.
The courts, the police, the banks and the real estate industry were all in one big shiny cabal, and still are.
Fraud by the real estate brokers against the Fannie Mae government foreclosure program is also shown. Appliances stolen, then sold back to the government to make the houses ‘whole’ again; stolen appliances sold for a profit; water and electricity shutoffs enforced by bank representatives; damage to houses in order to stop other agents from selling the houses. Carver wants to ‘carve’ up more houses and is attempting to muscle out the bigger competitors who are taking over hundreds and even thousands of homes. Nash goes along with these schemes to get his son and mother back in their old house, but the contradictions eventually become too much.
This film was written and directed by two Indians. Evidently we need Indians to cover U.S. tragedies, while so many American directors are making super-hero movies or other forms of head-in-the-sand entertainment.
Review of “The Big Short,” and “The Divide” by Taibbi, as well as various commentaries re foreclosure, are below. I will be doing a somewhat damning retrospective of Michael Lewis’ work based on his 2000 book, “The New New Thing,”
April 16, 2016