A Violent Solution To The Housing Crisis
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A Violent Solution To The Housing Crisis

Stories/28 , Issues/Cost of Living , Issues/Housing , Issues/Arts & Culture
Newtown NSW 2042, Australia
16th Jun 2017
A Violent Solution To The Housing Crisis
Housing affordability on your mind? Filmmaker Laurence Rosier Staines' 2016 mockumentary Real Estate might just have a solution.

A person’s gait can tell you a lot about them. When I interviewed filmmaker Laurence Rosier Staines I noticed a dynamism there, an enigmatic intensity that’s rare for such an unassuming kind of guy.

Laurence had been visiting friends in London when he heard about a cereal cafe in Shoreditch that had recently been looted—an expensive hipster intrusion into an otherwise working class neighbourhood where locals had expressed their anger with a violent outburst. Soon afterward, he happened upon a VICE article describing how the house of a serial killer was sold for less than current market value, simply because of its previous inhabitants (both dead and alive).

In his 2016 no-budget mockumentary Real Estate, Laurence navigates the uncomfortable truth that one way to reduce the market value of property and limit gentrification is through violence. Could violent resistance actually form part of the solution to the international housing affordability crisis?

“A lot of what I like to do in some way involves a hoax,” Laurence tells me. “The notion of doing a mockumentary feeds into that, presenting something as if it’s real. A lot of people thought it was real.”

The webseries follows the violent response of a trio of twenty-somethings to skyrocketing house prices, and has since received over 180,000 views on Facebook—nearly as many from London as from Sydney. It continues to show at film festivals, despite being shot on an iPhone.

Some of those online views were from NYC residents who had followed similar trains of thought. “A guy in Brooklyn shared it with the comment that he had the same idea, but if he tried to enact it he might get the death penalty—because he’s black.” Local intel has it that in Bed-Stuy, a Brooklyn suburb on the edge of the rapidly-gentrifying and gradually expanding Bushwick, people sometimes fire their guns into the air at night—creating a little apprehension and fear to keep the suburb on police radar, and therefore well off the radar of encroaching white hipsters.

A still from Real Estate. Image source: Laurence Rosier Staines.

Make no mistake, Real Estate isn’t necessarily encouraging the kind of violence it depicts. “One of the good things about satire is that it exists so close to the real world. It can show how things would go with one or two differences.” As Laurence mentions Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 allegorical film If…. (tellingly released shortly before the 1968 student revolutions), I notice a momentary glimmer in his eyes. “That film ends with a group of outsider misfits in a very conservative boarding school opening fire on a bunch of people their parents’ age—who then fight back themselves. Sheer generational warfare.”

Real Estate explores the same theme of generational warfare, albeit from a slightly different vantage point. Housing affordability is an issue that estranges millennials from the older generations, and according to Laurence, us millennials need a wake-up call.

“There needs to be significant change if we want to satisfy the expectations we grew up with—the house, the family, the world that we want to be a certain way. We must either fight harder to make the world match those narratives, or abandon them and invent new ones. Our generation especially is at an interesting crossroads where we are still clinging onto the past. The generation that comes after us may be the ones to change that; they haven’t grown up with the same expectations.”

A still from Real Estate. Image source: Laurence Rosier Staines.

As our conversation deepens, a question crystallises on the tip on my tongue. I want to know where Laurence personally stands when it comes to violent resistance.

“Part of me is a pacifist, and wants to think that violence doesn’t really solve anything. But that’s just not entirely true. Sometimes nothing changes without violence. The popular analogy is that the civil rights movement needed both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and it’s the same with the suffragettes – they used arson, property destruction and more to get the vote for women. It’s a way that people know you’re serious.

“I don't particularly think housing affordability should be the issue that ignites this, but the fact remains: our parents’ generation have left us a world in a climate of disrepair. Who is actually going to fix that? It will eventually fall to us.”

I’ve always prided myself in passive resistance, so for a moment, I feel a little unsettled. But as Laurence explains how impossible it is to exist as a creative person in Sydney if you just passively expect things to happen, I realise how relevant that notion is to the housing crisis.

According to The Weekly, from January this year there have been on average 528 stories published each day about housing affordability. To say the least: this shit is on all of our minds. And though politicians may wax lyrical about it when the pressure is on, a recent analysis by the ABC reveals that 96% of parliamentarians own their own home, with 48% also owning an investment property—a clear personal incentive for politicians to keep house prices sky high.

Our frustration is clear even without 35-year-old real estate tycoon Tim Gurner claiming on 60 Minutes that coffee and smashed avo are keeping houses out of reach for millennials (claims recently torn to shreds by the the New York Times—it would take 113 years before we could own our own home, even if we forgo the smashed avo).

In this climate, it’s perhaps not that surprising that some thought Real Estate might be a real documentary.

“I made it a year ago but it feel like it’s just going to get more relevant,” Laurence says.

My feelings exactly. Care to join me for a casual loot, anybody?

Laurence Rosier Staines is a filmmaker, writer and director based in Sydney. He has written and directed short films and independent theatre shows, which have appeared at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Adelaide Fringe, Perth Fringe World, Boston Underground Film Festival, Pasadena International Film Festival and more. Earlier this year he was one of PACT’s resident artists, developing an immersive work for Underbelly 2017, and in June he is bringing the interactive show Wakefield: LIVE to the Old 505 Theatre through his theatre collective Sekrit Projekt.

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