Review: Push documentary delves into the world of property speculation and people struggling to afford a home

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By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

“I don’t know who the owner is – it could be Frosty the Snowman.” This remark comes from one of the people interviewed in the new documentary called Push which examines the global housing crisis.

He was talking about the unknown private company who now owns his home in Toronto, Canada.

Push, directed by Fredrik Gertten, was screened last night at The Mac in Belfast as part of the Docs Ireland festival in front of a packed audience.

It reveals the way in which property has become a valuable asset that is traded without regard to whether hundreds of thousands of ordinary individuals can still afford to live in major cities.

Examples from Toronto and London illustrated the huge gulf between the increases in wages and house prices and the growing disconnect between the institutions who own property and the people who might want to live there.

We witnessed areas of London where properties trade hands for millions of pounds but nobody actually lives there.

Leilani Farha

Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, plays a prominent role in Push. We watch as she travels to several cities and talks to residents who have been affected by property speculation She argues for the fundamental human right to housing – as a place to live in dignity, to raise families and participate in the community.

It’s a pity that Ireland didn’t feature in Push given that the Republic is the midst of a housing crisis whilst thousands of people in Northern Ireland also languish on the waiting list for a home.

Panel discussion: Dr. Agustina Martire, left, with Eoin Ó Broin, Ciaran Mackel, Elfie Seymore and Gemma

The screening of Push at the Mac was followed by a panel discussion which included; Sinn Fein TD Eoin Ó Brion, Dr. Agustina Martire (Lecturer in Architecture, School of Natural and Built Environment at Queens University Belfast and vice chair of the SaveCQ campaign), Elfie Seymore and Gemma (Participation and the Practice of Rights) and Ciaran Mackel, Associate Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the Ulster University and the founder of ARdMackel Architects.

Housing activists on both sides of the border would benefit from watching Push and holding follow up discussions.

It remains to be seen whether governments who encourage property speculation with a range of tax breaks will listen to individuals such as Ms Farha.

Her call in the film for a worldwide housing movement is a worthy one though. It needs to be backed by all those who support the concept of public housing with security of tenure at the heart of it.

Housing blew up the global economy in 2008. Push shows us that the ‘free market’ is once again playing with people’s homes and lives.

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