Of the movies watched over the holidays I did not expect my favorite to be this one. A taut, intelligent script superbly acted that compelled me forward through a gripping tale using one man’s story to shine universal concerns.
The promo says:

“Set amidst the backdrop of the 2008 housing market catastrophe, Dennis Nash, a hard-working and honest man, can’t save his family home despite his best efforts. Thrown to the streets with alarming precision by real estate shark Mike Carver, Dennis, out of work and luck, is given a unique opportunity – to join Carver’s crew and put others through the harrowing ordeal done to him in order to earn back what’s his. ……Director Ramin Bahrani imbues his characters with icy complexity to achieve his compassionate portrait of a man whose integrity has become ensnared within an all-too-relevant American crisis. Bahrani’s provocative character study…explore{s} the ethical dilemma at the heart of man’s struggle to reach higher – by whatever means necessary.”

The thing is-I’ve been looking for a house for us and it has been quite problematic. It’s fixer-uppers only in my price range in the Triangle and the time needed to evaluate these places means they tend to get snatched up, very quickly in front of my eyes, before I can fully assess. Apartments present other sets of problems not the least of which is noise. Dogs alone can be a significant source of it.

Meanwhile, I pull back and realize I’ve been watching this from many angles. I have beloved family and friends underwater on their homes and struggling with the same issues in cities all over the country. All hard-working people and I see others leaving places like Asheville, simply priced-out of an area. I saw a Legislative panel on substance issues, and leading NC Prison officials pointed out something in my heart I know to be true which is that there are plenty of services to help prisoners re-enter (at least in some counties), but to quote them, “We can’t find reasonable housing for them to live in.” This is a huge barrier. Ex-offenders striving to change and transform their lives will work and recover but their income will simply not be high enough to actually get them an apartment in many parts of the Triangle.
As is my wont to do, I read up a bit. Allow me to quote from a couple of well-researched New Yorker articles for some historical perspective:

“One thousand families. That’s how many Americans lost their homes each day at the height of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s response to this relentless destruction created the most successful housing finance system in the world, a key to America’s political stability and emergence as an economic power house.

To stop foreclosures, the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) bought defaulted mortgages from financial institutions at a discount and sold them back to homeowners. Beginning in 1933, HOLC acquired one million mortgages-one out of five in the country at that time. Eighty percent of HOLC clients saved their homes when they otherwise might have lost them. And once every mortgage was paid off and the program closed, HOLC even turned a small profit.


HOLC gave borrowers a twenty-year mortgage with a fixed interest rate, allowing them to gradually pay off the principal over the life of the loan, a process known as amortization. At the time very few Americans had long-term mortgages.


Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare enough to draw crowds. Eviction riots erupted during the Depression, though the number of poor families who faced eviction each year was a fraction of what it is today. In February, 1932, the Times published an account of community resistance to the eviction of three families in the Bronx, observing,

 “Probably because of the cold, the crowd numbered only 1,000.”

These days, evictions are too commonplace to attract attention. There are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders. {emphasis mine} Some moving companies specialize in evictions, their crews working all day long, five days a week. Hundreds of data-mining companies sell landlords tenant-screening reports that list past evictions and court filings. Meanwhile, families have watched their incomes stagnate or fall as their housing costs have soared. Today, the majority of poor renting families spend more than half their income on housing, and millions of Americans are evicted every year. In Milwaukee, a city of fewer than a hundred and five thousand renter households, landlords legally evict roughly sixteen thousand adults and children each year. As the real-estate market has recovered in the wake of the foreclosure crisis and the ensuing recession, evictions have only increased.

But there are other ways, cheaper and quicker than a court order, to remove a family. Some landlords pay tenants a couple of hundred dollars to leave by the end of the week. Some take off the front door. Nearly half of the forced moves of renting families in Milwaukee are “informal evictions,” which, like many rentals, involve no paperwork, and take place in the shadow of the law. Between 2009 and 2011, more than one in eight Milwaukee renters were displaced involuntarily, whether by formal or informal eviction, landlord foreclosure, or building condemnation. In 2013, nearly the same proportion of poor renting families nationwide was unable to pay all of their rent, and a similar number thought it was likely that they would be evicted soon.
For decades, social scientists, journalists, and policymakers have focused on jobs, public assistance, parenting, and mass incarceration as the central problems faced by the American poor, overlooking just how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty. Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly everyone has a landlord.”

Here’s a respected business journal’s take on what high rents/real estate costs are doing in cities across the land.

The reason it’s imperative we look at these seemingly indirectly related issues (meaning related to SUD) is covered in this post from Rich Jones, a Peer Center pioneer in South Carolina. I’ve been angling, for a while, to bring him here to present his visions and truth.

This writing harkens back to John Bradshaw and Ken Wilbur and many others whose ideas on whole systems ring true from my experience:

  1. All systems {including individual humans-each of us is a “system”} seek homeostasis (balance)
  2. all systems incorporate feedback loops to function (even if the loops are based on conflict and chaos)
  3. hierarchies are a vital part of systemic functions including all roles, rules, and subsystems. Boundaries (rigid, diffuse etc…) facilitate these functions
  4. the system cannot be understood by reductionism (i.e. By looking at the addict alone). Must examine the whole {emphasis mine}
  5. change in one part of the system creates change in all parts of the system
  6. family values encompass some of these concepts and are passed down from one generation to another, affecting the dynamics of the entire system….

Reductionism No-Whole System Yes. To get anywhere we must examine the whole. Everything’s related so if we want true health all parts will be affected. This housing snapshot is an example, a template, we could extend to most every one of society’s systems.

All that said; how about a few more movie recommendations:

Mascots: the latest from the brain trust of Christopher Guest and his troupe of comic masters that gave us such wizardry as; Spinal Tap – certainly deserving of placement on a Top 10 film comedy list, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind (the title alone deserves an award) and Waiting for Guffman.

Danny Collins – Al Pacino as an aging pop star; there is a touching, true-story aspect to this, involving my favorite Beatle, that elevates.
Bayou Maharajah, a documentary that strives to tell the story of James Booker, an actual New Orleans musical genius.