Housing crisis becomes Hollywood thriller

The issues of housing affordability and corporate greed are at the centre of a new film featuring two Hollywood stars.

Set in Florida during the US housing crisis, 99 Homes follows the story of single father Denis Nash (played by Andrew Garfield) and his family, who are evicted from their home by real estate broker Rick Carver (played by Michael Shannon), forcing Nash to work for Carver in exchange for his own family’s home.

Ramin Bahrani, director of 99 Homes, said he found the story’s structure while on a research trip in Florida.

“The research was so eye-opening – the amount of corruption was mind-boggling, and the human struggle was so real. Imagine losing your home – the stakes are immediately so high,” he told Mortgage Business.

“I was startled to see that real estate brokers all carried guns because there were terrified of who was going to be on the other side of the door when they knocked.”

Mr Bahrani describes the movie as a ‘deal with the Devil film’, with the Devil being the system rather than the real estate broker.

“The heartache in Rick Carver’s case was that he didn’t want to do this. He did not sign up for evictions – it became his job, and if he didn’t do it then someone else would and put him out of a job,” he said.

“Nobody raises their hand in kindergarten and says ‘I want to evict families from their homes one day’.”

Mr Bahrani said the film’s title not only relates to many parts of the film, but also represents the issues of housing affordability and corporate greed.

“In the States, it doesn’t make sense when the heads of big private banks become the head of the US Federal Reserve, make decisions during crises, and while the country is not in crisis that will clearly benefit a handful of private banks,” he said. “It’s not about we as people – it’s about the handful of banks as people.”

“When Michael Shannon’s character says ‘Honest, hard work doesn’t get you anything but me knocking on your door to evict you’, I think people can relate to that.

“The feeling of being trapped in a system of not being able to get their head above water is one that people all over the world feel – not just with housing.”

Mr Bahrani believes lessons are still to be learnt from the sub-prime crisis in the US – in fact, he thinks the crisis will be repeated.

“I think there is going to be another [housing] bubble – or burst of a bubble. Part of that is to do with bulk-buying, which is touched on during the film,” he said.

“Also, based on the global connectivity of the markets, generally housing market crashes are going to be more severe and happen more quickly than ever before – you can see a correlation with any of the pandemics, again due to global connectivity.”

Mr Bahrani hopes that people who watch the film engage with it emotionally through the characters, and then start talking – “not just about what they would do morally if they were in the same situation, but also about what the experts are saying about what lies ahead for housing markets and affordability so that they’re prepared if a bubble or crash occurs”.

99 Homes is in cinemas now.

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