New Film “PUSH” Exposes Worldwide Trends and the Engines of Displacement
In her documentary film PUSH, Leilani Farha, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, reveals the human toll that global gentrification trends are taking, by capturing the personal testaments of those living in cities around the world who are experiencing the particular kind of housing insecurity that results from these trends. Capturing these testimonies is, in fact, part of Farha’s job, as she seeks to hold states accountable to their obligations under international human rights law to ensure adequate and affordable housing for all.
Through an interview with a New York City resident, we learn how a subsidiary of Blackstone bought his housing complex, which has approximately 2,000 units, and then sought to raise the rent of each unit by $900. In Toronto, Copenhagen and London we hear how management companies withhold services so that the quality of rental housing degrades to the point that they are no longer habitable. And in London we witness the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives in June 2017, as a result of such reckless abandon.
The film also follows Farha as she explores data that back these personal testaments. While not directly mentioned in the film, Global Land Alliance’s Prindex data also quantitatively confirms these empirics- that 1 in 4 adults worldwide feel insecure about their tenure and fear displacement, including in some cases those that own their property. As documented in the film, in Valparaiso, Mexico, we see how a woman is being pressured off the land she owns and out of her house by developers- even though they do not own the land. In Seoul, the filmmakers tour the site of a village on the hilly outskirts of the city that was destroyed by the thugs of developers, with the complicit backing of the police, and hear about the physical brutality endured by the residents who tried to protect their houses.
Complimenting these data and stories, the film follows Farha as she seeks council with some of the world’s leading experts on this particular kind of forced displacement, including Noble Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Sociologist Saskia Sassen. Through these conversations we learn how gentrification trends are being fueled by the multinational investment companies and developers—who directly target the low-income and subsidized housing stock, seeking to either flip the units or hold them vacant until the land underneath becomes more valuable. In London, for example, we learn how 80% of the units bought by foreign investors have been left vacant, with plans to reap the rewards of their speculation in the future when the market shifts. These conversations also reveal how this ‘shift’ in the market is not natural or inevitable, but a direct result of such speculative investments.
Another way forward
In reaction to these trends, the film then follows Farha as she embarks on a campaign that encourages another kind of shift- to understand that housing is a human right and therefore should not be allowed to be treated as a commodity. In her own words:
I don’t believe that capitalism itself is hugely problematic. [However] is unbridled capitalism in an area that is a human right problematic? Yes. And I think that’s what differentiates housing as a commodity, from gold as a commodity. Gold is not a human right, housing is.
Through PUSH Farha challenges us all to #MakeTheShift, demanding and fulfilling our human rights to adequate and affordable housing. Documenting how local governments are embracing this campaign, we follow Farha into meeting rooms in Barcelona and New York City. In Barcelona, for example, Mayor Ada Colau explains how her administration has taken on companies, including AirB&B, that are threatening the stock of affordable housing.
We also see Farha challenging actors from the private sector to consider this cause; including asset management companies who are, in some cases, ironically are investing people’s pension funds into these projects that destroy affordable housing. . . despite the fact that the pension holder may one day need to use their funds for such housing in the future. While Farha’s attempts throughout the film to directly confront these companies proves futile, we are reminded of her power over states to enforce their human rights obligations. States in turn can impose regulations on the private market.
While not the focus of the film, we see how Farha’s Shift campaign has also been embraced by civil society, particularly the community-led housing sector. CoHabitat’s map shows the strength and solidarity of this sector to fill in the gaps where the private market and public housing won’t currently go; and how “we the people are the solution, and not the problem.”
How to watch PUSH / engage in The Shift
View the Trailer and lookout for PUSH to come to a theater near you in Spring of 2020. For for more details contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Farha’s work as UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Right to Housing and her Make the Shift campaign. Engage on Social Media with #MakeTheShift and @leilanifarha
Document your own efforts to make the shift on Co-Habitat’s map
Engage with Prindex to learn more about perceptions of insecurity of house and property in our global index.