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How Does the Affordable Housing Crisis Impact Our Communities? These 4 Documentaries Will Show You

By HOM Editor
January 2021

You can spend hours Googling how-to articles on homeownership, but we’ve rounded up these four documentaries on affordable housing to provide you with a one-stop-shop for all relevant information about homeownership.

Not only do these documentaries highlight affordable housing across the United States, they also have a large focus on ending the housing crisis across the globe and the homelessness calamity, particularly amongst America’s youth in VICE’s documentary ‘Shelter’.

Read on below to understand the focus of each of these recommended documentaries:

This short documentary produced by Greystone focuses on how USDA’s Rural Development Division, and partners, have been working to conserve affordable housing for elderly and low-income residents in rural America. In the film, experts such as Robert Barolak of Greystone discuss the affordable housing preservation process. “There are still a great number of lower-income and elderly folks who live in rural America and who need affordable housing. But it’s aging. It’s deteriorating, and some of it deteriorating quite rapidly. It needs to be renovated and refreshed. It needs to be repositioned for the next 30 or 40 years,” Barolak shares. Greystone has taken that into account and made active changes both financially and in regard to redevelopment.

Greystone manages the repositioning and renovation of apartment complexes in small rural rental communities across the country, primarily in the southeastern states. As Tanya Eastwood, the president of Greystone Affordable Development, shares the company’s plans, “We came up with a creative innovative plan to preserve this much-needed housing. We basically pooled them together in a statewide portfolio type transaction and are able to have a major impact in their real estate schedules that they own.” Recently, Greystone was able to refurbish 1,362 apartments in 44 different communities across rural Georgia with $117 million in financing. In addition to USDA, Greystone actively worked with the Athens Housing Authority, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and Fannie Mae to assemble the necessary financing.

This PBS documentary was produced with the MN Housing Partnership and shares numerous stories from tenants on how they pushed through the housing crisis to find affordable solutions. Ever-changing economic power and urban development have been closing in on low-income communities for ages, and in turn, negatively impacting the affordable housing market. With each passing day, low-income residents have fewer options when it comes to housing and once we see those families and residents move to more affordable areas, local businesses start to see the lack of patrons immediately and struggle to make ends meet. As shared in the documentary, “Folks at the bottom end of the income spectrum are losing out in this very competitive situation.”

“This issue of housing sits at the center of our wellbeing.”

One heart-wrenching example, tenants who had called their Richfield, MN apartment home for up to 15 years received 30-day notices that they had to leave, even after signing 12-month leases, once the complex was sold. The new owners of the huge apartment complex, Crossroads Apartments, immediately put in a set of policies designed to ultimately remake the tenant population, such as increasing rents 30% and stopping all involvement in any government programs.

This vicious cycle seems to be never ending, but ‘Sold Out: Affordable Housing at Risk’ shares solutions to the crisis and eviction scares. The short film also touches on communities of color, asking important questions such as “Is what’s wrong the concentration of communities of color, or is it the way in which we treat concentrations of communities of color?” As said in the documentary, “This issue of housing sits at the center of our wellbeing.”

VICE’s documentary ‘SHELTER’ focuses on America’s youth homelessness crisis specifically. The crew set off to New Orleans to chat with the staff and residents of America’s largest non-profit shelter – Covenant House. The perspective from the alarmingly young residents and passionate staff in the documentary shines a light on the severity of the issue and ultimately prompts directors Brent and Craig Renaud (as well as viewers) to urgently address the plight of homeless youth.

The Covenant House has been protecting at-risk youths for over 40 years and has no plans of stopping. The documentary informs viewers of the day to day struggles the staff handles to keep vulnerable members of society safe and off the streets. With a large majority of these teens being survivors of sex trafficking, physical abuse, mental health issues, addiction, and abandonment, the Covenant House isn’t just a place to lay their head, but a home. Homelessness affects over half a million people in the U.S. and the number of unhoused people increased nationally for the first time since 2010, based on data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In Louisiana specifically, where the short film is based, at least 3,000 unhoused people were reported in 2017.

This documentary from Gaaleriie centers on affordable housing in Vienna, which is nearly a utopian community when it comes to social housing. Vienna currently has two systems of subsidized housing. One is social housing, owned by the city, where no new private units are built within this sector. The nonprofit sector has been greatly strengthened over the years by working with nonprofit developers such as this one. Roughly half of the population is living in this sector of public housing. Within this subsidized sector, there is a lot of experimentation allowing them to introduce new sustainable housing standards such as energy consumption and integration programs to assist immigrants in Vienna.

Another aspect of Vienna’s affordable housing, which makes them the star pupil of the world, is that every large new housing estate has to go through an in-depth competition process. A team consisting of a nonprofit developer, an architect, a landscape architect, and other experts have to present a “complete product” to the city. These extensive steps ensure that the appropriate amount of time, effort, and consideration has been put into the new development to guarantee it is a safe and beneficial home for those who are seeking affordable housing.

Each of these four documentaries highlight obstacles that the housing crisis puts on lower income populations. A lack of affordable housing doesn’t only leave people unhoused, but it also has a huge impact on small businesses, schools, and the overall community. The U.S. can certainly take notes from Vienna’s progressive affordable housing system, and with the right financial guidance and support, America can match up with some of Europe’s public housing success.


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