FHCCI Staff Recommendations

As we all confront the COVID-19 pandemic in our different ways, the FHCCI staff has received requests about book and movie recommendations with so many of us spending more time at home. Below are suggestions from the FHCCI’s staff that reference fair housing, housing, or civil rights. 

Books:

Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayen. This book tells the story of some ordinary Americans dealing with foreclosures. They knew what was happening to them was not right and that there were significant gaps in how the foreclosure process was moving forward at record speeds by the mortgage industry. While millions of people were losing their homes, their work brought to light the overwhelming series of frauds being conducted, including against people who had never missed a single mortgage payment. This riveting book shows the complete breakdown of the court system in ensuring that the process was being handled lawfully and holding both parties accountable. This underreported story brings to light the changes still needing to be made to ensure that Americans do not, yet again, experience since a substantial loss homeownership.  Recommended by Amy.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. A staple in every housing advocate’s book collection is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. However, the biggest thing this book achieves is opening the discussion to those who may not have given the inequalities of housing a second thought. Author Matthew Desmond humanizes the eviction process to become more than just their filings in eviction court. He follows the long-term impact that a loss in housing has, both for the renter and the landlord. He shows how a single flat tire or a mistake by a young child can lead to someone’s eviction. How that eviction then follows that family and limits their ability to secure future safe and affordable housing. Desmond meticulously shows how expensive it is to be poor and how your housing impacts so many facets of your life. Fair housing themes weave in and out throughout the book. He ends the book with recommendations for policy changes – something Indiana should take to heart given its ranking of several high evicting cities. Recommended by Amy.

Homewreckers by Aaron Glantz. I recommend Aaron Glantz’ book, Homewreckers, to anyone interested in learning how Wall Street’s plunder of our communities stripped Americans from the dream of homeownership, and still affects us today. Ever wonder how in the wake of the 2007 foreclosure crisis banks and financiers made billions while poor and minority communities were left for foreclosure? Glantz shows how the American tax payer paid real estate tycoons to stockpile our affordable housing stock and extract the wealth from our most vulnerable populations. Predictably, these pernicious acts by Wall Street and our politicians disproportionally affected people of color and our aging population. Following the Great Recession, America saw the gains in African American and minority homeownership stripped away within in a matter of years. Glantz’ book illustrates how the people we trust to run and regulate our economy opted to hand a small group of investors a billion dollar, tax funded, payday and leave Americans to lose one of the only wealth creators available to working families: homeownership. Glantz’ book is even more important now, as the COVID moratoriums come to an end, there is a real threat of history repeating itself. As an advocate, this book is imperative to understand the forces working against the dream fair housing. Recommended by Noe.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. In the debate between book readers and movie lovers, The Big Short delivers with both. In the book, the author walks the reader through the otherwise non-understandable Wall Street transactions related to mortgage securities. He details how Wall Street was the prime contributor to the foreclosure crisis of the mid 2000s by causing the rapid expansion of the predatory lending market. The fair housing implications are evident throughout the book in how black and brown communities were targeted with subprime loans built for the homeowner to fail. If you are not a book reader, the movie does an excellent job summarizing the book in its 2 hours of screen time adding in levity and real world examples. Recommended by Amy.

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. Richard Rothstein’s, The Color of Law, should be standard reading for all Americans. Rothstein’s book is a meticulous tour de force that shatters the tired old narratives concerning segregation and its origins. His research explains how segregation was not only sanctioned by the state but was enforced by mechanisms ranging from policy to outright racial violence. Rothstein takes the reader on a journey through a past where African Americans were explicitly barred from not only obtaining mortgages but also kept from owning homes in neighborhoods where racial exclusion was the norm. Rothstein’s book is incredibly important today. In an age where white household wealth is nearly ten times higher than black households, and black communities struggle under the weight of discrimination and poverty, it is not hard to connect the dots methodically laid out by Rothstein’s work. Recommended by Noe.

The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America–and Spawned a Global Crisis by Michael W. Hudson. Written like a mystery thriller and who-done-it, this book goes back in time and takes an in-depth look at the start of today’s predatory lending housing market and the persons who built the industry. It documents how regular homeowners were defrauded and schemed into predatory products, often resulting in foreclosure, under the guise of helping the underserved. The book also documents what efforts were tried to regulate this market – and the failures thereof – along with Wall Street’s insatiable demand for more mortgages to feed profits. With a cast of characters out of a Hollywood movie, this book is a good read for those wanting to better understand the underbelly of today’s housing and lending markets and the fair housing impacts of such. Recommended by Amy.

Movies/Videos/TV:

After Innocence. This documentary tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated – innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the story of seven men and their emotional journey back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. After Innocence shows that the punishment of being wrongful imprisonment can last far longer than the sentences served, raising basic questions about human rights and society’s moral obligation to the exonerated by placing a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent. Recommended by Ruby.

America Divided: A House DividedI love the America Divided: A House Divided documentary short primarily because it’s accessible to anyone – you can view it for free on YouTube. Aside from its accessibility to all audiences, it hits the nail on the head when it comes to a wide variety of housing injustices going on not only in NYC, but the entire country. The documentary short touches upon gentrification, lack of safe and habitable housing, lack of affordable housing, and even discusses the topic of fair housing and testing with the Fair Housing Justice Center of NY where you see a real-life fair housing test come to fruition. It opens your eyes to the inequities that take place in your own community. While not all of them are directly fair housing-related, they all showcase why we need to come together in our unique industries to tackle the housing issues in our country, especially for those commonly impacted by discrimination under fair housing laws. Recommended by Brady.

Cesar Chavez. This film focuses on the major events of Mr. Chavez’s organizing including the boycott of grapes, which eventually forced the grape growers to reach an agreement with the United Farm Workers (UFW). The film also emphasizes his dedication to the cause of non-violence and his efforts to work across ethnic lines. It also showed the difficulties his work caused for his family. Chavez inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life who never worked on a farm to fight for social justice, fair pay, and food security. Recommended by Ruby.

Class Divide. I highly recommend devoting an hour of your time to watching the documentary, Class Divide. This documentary touches on so many important factors and ideas that affect the way many people view wealth, education, housing, and opportunity in this country. The Class Divide gives a general overview of topics such as generational wealth, stereotypes, gentrification, and a glimpse at the differences in the education system in the U.S. The documentary provides interviews of individuals from both sides of a vast wealth gap, and shows their personal experiences, views, opportunities, and struggles. The ability to access fair and safe housing connects to each of the topics mentioned in this documentary. Without adequate housing and access to basic needs, both opportunity and quality of life diminish greatly. Recommended by Keri.

Crip Camp, this Netflix documentary is set in the 1970s and shows how teenagers with disabilities faced a future of isolation, discrimination, and institutionalization. When these teenagers had the opportunity to go to Camp Jened, they meet with other individuals who also have disabilities, and they all create a bond to start fighting for the civil rights of the disability community. Crimp Camp is an activist story about political organizing and perseverance. It shows how it is a difficult process of changing peoples’ minds. That change; however, can benefit thousands, if not millions, of people. In this case, how to convince the U.S. government to pass legislation that does not discriminate against people with disabilities…what comes to be the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This documentary provides an often overlooked history lesson on the start of the modern day disability civil rights movement. Recommended by Ruby.

Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992A striking historical picture of Los Angeles in the late 20th century. This Netflix documentary leads the viewer into the events leading up to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The most fascinating element of the documentary are the intimate interviews with residents of L.A.’s neighborhoods, former LAPD officers, politicians, Korean shop owners, and their families. The documentary shows that even in times of deep sadness and chaos, community members will come together for the benefit of their fellow human beings. Recommended by Noe.

MarshallFor anyone that is unfamiliar with the great Thurgood Marshall, or the incredible theatrical performances of Chadwick Boseman, I strongly encourage spending 2 hours to journey back to a 1940s courtroom in the movie, Marshall. This beautiful movie gives the audience a glimpse into the past, but also shines a light onto the incredible fight still ahead of us. Even today we must work to end discrimination in housing, in the criminal justice system, and every day interactions across the nation. Criminal history, evictions, race and many other factors are still negatively impacting peoples’ ability to find safe and affordable housing in the United States. Though the setting for this movie is well before our present time, some of the same biases and discriminatory practices weigh heavily on the lives of African Americans, minorities, and immigrants today. This movie highlights one of Marshall’s early cases, and showcases his unwavering devotion to achieve justice for the innocent. He repeatedly fought to ensure that his clients had the best opportunity to receive a fair trial in courts across the United States. Marshall argued 32 civil rights cases in the United States Supreme Court, and won the 1954 case of Brown vs. the Board of Education which outlawed segregation in public schools. Recommended by Keri.

Owned: A Tale of Two Americas. A very informative documentary, Owned: A Tale of Two Americas, was released for streaming in 2019. This relatively brief documentary covers many topics that are directly related to a person’s ability to find and maintain safe and affordable housing in the United States. The program includes interviews and comments from a variety of different people with varying perspectives on housing in America. This documentary also highlights the importance of homeownership in the U.S. and its direct correlation to building wealth. It explains many of the issues that have led to decades of continued wealth disparities, foreclosures, and flaws in the lending and real estate industries. Some other topics that are discussed include the G.I. Bill, redlining, the Fair Housing Act, and government funded housing. Recommended by Keri.

The Banker. This movie is based on the true story of Bernard Garrett and Joseph Morris, two African-American entrepreneurs who sought to financially empower black Americans by securing homes in white neighborhoods which they sold or rented to black families, thereby integrating those neighborhoods. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, pre-fair housing laws, these two entrepreneurs then create a business plan to purchase a bank in Texas with the goal to give loans to blacks for their homes and businesses. Recommended by Ruby.

The Florida Project. While not directly fair housing-focused, The Florida Project, is a 2017 film that has stuck in my mind ever since seeing it. It’s a hard, but very real, glimpse into the life of a single mother struggling to make ends meet while living in a motel next to Walt Disney World. Most of the film is from the perspective of 6-year-old Moonee with typical childhood angst but also showing their struggles of living in poverty. Particularly relevant with the COVID crisis we’re experiencing, this film struck me in its irony of how much goes unnoticed when we decide to turn an eye to disparities and poverty happening in our own backyards. Recommended by Brady.

Too Big To Fail. Too Big to Fail is a Hollywood portrayal the 2008 financial crisis in the final days of the President George W. Bush administration. Many Americans likely remember seeing reports of stock prices plummeting and news reports of mass foreclosures. Too Big to Fail goes a step further and gives its audience a front row seat in the decision rooms and negotiation tables led by U.S. financial regulators and Wall Street’s most powerful elite. Any fair housing advocate would benefit from viewing this film, as the results following the crisis can still be seen today in the neighborhoods showing the scars of the financial meltdown. As a result, we are now seeing the rise of corporate landlords and a historic wealth transfer. Arguably, much can be traced back to the decisions depicted in this film as well as actions taken later into the crisis. While this film is small piece in the story of the 2008 crisis and following recession, it is an important one. An Emmy-nominated film. Recommended by Noe.

Unbelievable. Based on a true story, this drama miniseries follows a rape survivor and the struggles and challenges that she and her female detectives must overcome in order to bring justice to victims. It’s tough to get through this series, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s important to see how flawed our system is when it comes to justice for survivors. While not directly fair housing-related, we are seeing a strong uptick in sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination around Indiana and the country since the COVID pandemic has forced people to stay in their homes, many left without ways to pay rent. If your landlord, maintenance man, or housing provider suggests sexual favors in exchange for rent or maintenance, please contact the FHCCI immediately. An Emmy-nominated series. Recommended by Brady.

Vampires vs. The BronxVampires causing gentrification – say what? In this comedy horror movie, three teenagers in the Bronx are dealing with invasive vampires that seem to be taking away minority-owned local businesses, which are staples in the community, and replacing with trendy high-end restaurants, real estate, coffee shops, etc. While not historically accurate!, this is a new look at the impact of gentrification and the harmful displacement it causes on its current residents. Perfect fair housing film to watch at Halloween. Recommended by Brady.

Welcome to Pine Lake. This documentary, Welcome to Pine Lake, a CBSN Original, takes place in a small town just 12 miles outside of Atlanta, GA between the years of 2018 and 2020. This film began as a way to showcase the town which is run by several women, including the mayor, city council members, chief of police, and the judge. As the documentary progressed, it uncovered the systemic racism that is still having a dramatic effect on the black community in the area. For example, it found that the nearby black residents and commuters were policed at a dramatically higher rate than the white residents of Pine Lake. There are many interviews included in the documentary, as well as up-close footage of court hearings that deal with the many tickets given out in the area. Recommended by Keri.

Looking for more recommendations? Visit the pages of our colleagues at the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan or the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research.