“No Direction Home” reaches many troubling conclusions about California’s housing market:
- How an unprecedented real estate boom is allowing speculators to buy up entire working-class neighborhoods and then gentrify them.
- How people now live and commute increasingly far from their jobs, because their cities and towns lie on transit corridors connecting San Francisco or Silicon Valley.
- How many immigrant workers pay top dollar for terrible living conditions.
- How the number of Section 8 vouchers or units of affordable housing that local governments can offer has dramatically shrunk, thanks to privatization and Governor Jerry Brown’s dismantling of the state’s community redevelopment agencies.
- How people languish for years on waiting lists for the small number of affordable housing units that do exist.
- How local and state governments lack the political will to confront the housing crisis on a large-enough scale to make a real difference
- Introduction: Journalist and author Sasha Abramsky (Atlantic Monthly, New York magazine, Salon, Slate, New Yorker, Daily Beast, Rolling Stone) presents the sobering facts about California’s increasingly unaffordable housing market, and what it means for the future of the Golden State.
- In his four-part narrative portrait, Abramsky travels to Fresno, Oakland, Hollywood and Orange and Sonoma counties, where he hears the stories of people living in a state of permanent crisis because they lack affordable housing, including:
- Sylvie Shain, one of only two remaining holdout tenants in the Villa Carlotta apartment complex, a faded beauty of Hollywood architecture that awaits its luxury makeover — and the wealthier residents who will inevitably take Shain’s place.
- Melissa Jones, a grade-school art teacher with a master’s degree renting a one-bedroom basement apartment with her son in Santa Rosa.
- Isabelle Lopez, who shares a room with cardboard walls with her husband inside a grossly subdivided house in Santa Ana.
- Randina Elias, who lives with her two children in a Fresno apartment complex infested with rats and roaches and plagued by crime.
- Acclaimed photographer Ted Soqui (The Guardian, Time, Newsweek, NBC News, Daily Beast, New York Magazine, Los Angeles magazine) documents California’s quiet but potentially explosive crisis.
- Award-winning cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz (New York Times, L.A. Times, CNN, NPR, Rolling Stone) captures the irony and heartache of the increasingly unattainable California Dream.
- An infographic video presents the startling facts on California’s housing crisis.
- Debra Varnado examines why so many working Californians struggle to find a place to live that doesn’t take more than a third of their income in rent or mortgage.
- Ana Beatriz Cholo (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press) talks to developers to hear their critique of what is holding up the creation of more affordable housing.
- In a separate piece, Cholo also explores solutions to alleviate the uncertainty of millions of Californians who have no idea what the next year – or next month – will mean for their living conditions.
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Labor Day 2014: Workers Build Los Angeles Story by Story
When I heard that the new Wilshire Grand hotel was going up at Wilshire and Figueroa, I got in touch with my friends in the building trades unions and suggested a film that followed the hotel’s construction from start to finish – from the first record-breaking cement pour to the topping off and finishing. They were enthusiastic about the idea.
I come from a “building trades family”– my electrician father attempted to instill the love and mysteries of his craft to me during my youth. While I’ve never done construction work myself, I’ve always felt comfortable on construction sites, emotionally at home with the unique atmosphere and rough camaraderie.
I don’t merely want to archive the rise of a building with this film. I want to take a closer look at what the men and women who work there feel about their skills, their work and about the values they cultivate amongst themselves as they diligently move forward and upward.
There is a long tradition in the United States, and perhaps most of the world, of binary thinking when it comes to work. We all know the categories and the language: blue collar and white collar, vocational and academic, skilled and unskilled, those who work with their minds vs. those who work with their hands. This is a political and class language masquerading as an “objective” description of our complex work lives.
Anyone who has spent even the briefest time talking to construction workers about what they do quickly realizes how warped and outdated these distinctions are.
My interest is in deepening our understanding of what construction workers do, what their unions mean to them, how their crafts are learned and how their work contributes to identity and meaning in their lives.
When iron worker Chris Ahrens talks about the ritual of the evergreen tree as a “symbol of life,” he is extending his moral imagination to the eventual visitors to the hotel that he will never meet. His work is an expression of his values.
Insulation worker Reginal Butler struggles daily with the tools and tasks of his trade. The pride he has in his work flows from those moments of self-creation.
And journeyman electrician Dino Degrassi understands the intricate relationship between “book” learning and practical experience — the thought, nuance and creativity that are required to polish his craft.
If one aspect of freedom is the desire to describe and therefore define oneself, then reinforcing the shared vocabulary of craft and quality makes possible a circle of autonomy and pride at the worksite. Union craftspeople teach each other how to interpret their own work.
When the final film is finished it will be shown in schools throughout the country, providing a more accurate look at the opportunities available in the union construction trades.
(Kelly Candaele is a writer, filmmaker, teacher and has served as a trustee for the Los Angeles Community College District.)
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