Article Courtesy of The Orlando
By Mary Shanklin
October 12, 2015
The slogan for a new Orlando-inspired foreclosure
thriller being released nationally this weekend is: Greed is the only
game in town.
The critically acclaimed film "99 Homes," starring Andrew Garfield and
Laura Dern, is based on a fictional cutthroat Orlando real-estate broker
evicting underwater and unemployed Central Florida families from their
homes and then stripping out appliances and air-conditioning units in
order to get Fannie Mae to pay for replacements.
While the big screen reflects many aspects of reality
in one of the nation's leading foreclosure markets, some parts of the
film were a stretch, said one real-estate agent experienced in
foreclosures and evictions.
"The reactions people had in
losing their homes seemed realistic, although I have
never experienced the violent reactions portrayed in
the movie," said Winter Park real-estate agent David
"99 Homes" portrays Orlando as a place where
residents either struggle financially or figure out
a way to enrich themselves. There is little middle
ground. While workmen brawl in a parking lot over
missing tools, married real-estate broker Rick
Carver, played by Michael Shannon, sports a Rolex
watch and drives his Land Rover to the lakefront
home he keeps for his lover.
long ranked as the top state for foreclosures, has the country's worst
rate of disbursing $1 billion in federal foreclosure-relief funds,
according to a new report by a federal enforcement agency.
Writer and director Ramin Bahrani told a public-television station in
California that he chose Florida because it was an epicenter of the
"At first, when I thought of foreclosures, I assumed this was going to
be a realistic and depressing film," he told KCET. "But when I got to
Florida, I realized the film was going to be a thriller, and it was
going to be fast-paced."
The movie touches on myriad story lines from a region where more than
120,000 houses were sold in foreclosures or short sales during the past
eight years. From children being shuffled among schools to forged
documents forcing foreclosures, the movie reflects many of the pains
Central Florida has experienced since the housing market collapsed
starting in 2007.
An early courtroom scene showed unemployed construction worker Dennis
Nash, played by Garfield, trying to explain to a judge that his bank has
been telling him two things: It was trying to modify his mortgage but
also foreclose on him. The refrain was common among struggling Central
Floridians in 2010 as banks held out hope for trial mortgage
modifications while simultaneously pushing through foreclosure
That scene also touched on the foreclosure quagmire in the courts,
showing a judge hurrying proceedings because he's got "40 more cases
that day." It reflected what was known as Florida's "rocket docket,"
with more than 32,000 foreclosure cases pending in Orange County alone
during 2010. One Seminole County judge scheduled 300 foreclosure cases
to be heard during three days.
"The judges have been overwhelmed by the number of cases over the past
several years, leaving them little time to address each case," Welch
said. "However, they typically give people who take the time to show up
for a hearing a reasonable amount of time to vacate."
In one of the biggest departures from Orlando's foreclosure scene,
deputies arrived to evict the Nash family almost immediately after the
court ruling. In reality, Florida foreclosures were so bogged down in
the courts that they took years to complete. And deputies give at least
a day's notice before eviction instead of two minutes.
A scene familiar in some Orlando-area, working-class neighborhoods was
the sight of toys, clothes and furnishings strewn across the front yards
of evicted families.
That part is reality, Welch said: "Nobody is surprised when we show up,
but some are still not out, and we do have to take their belongings to
the curb," he said.
Even though it was filmed in New Orleans, the movie is steeped in
Orlando visual cues, including patrol cars and officers from the Orange
County Sheriff's Office and Orlando Police Department, Orlando Magic
posters, aerial video of downtown Orlando, wall maps of Orange County
and a developer seeking inside information on a planned intersection for
State Road 414.
What might not look familiar are red-brick homes and a downtown
high-rise named Benson Tower, which happens to be in New Orleans.
The film captured another slice of Orlando, with families crammed into
extended-stay hotels because their credit was ruined and they lacked
deposits needed to rent homes or apartments. Even now, thousands reside
in the hotels, and local governments are working on grants to cover
upfront cash needed to move them into rentals.
When the evicted single dad in the movie needs some cash, he starts
working for Carver and gets $250 for shoveling sewage from a house where
the previous owner backed up the sewage lines and scrawled "kill
bankers" across a wall. At another house in the movie, a homeowner
pirated water and power from a foreclosed house next door.
Similar scenes played out across the broad spectrum of Central Florida
neighborhoods during the last eight years. In a blue-collar area of
Poinciana, a homeowner and his roommate camped out in their foreclosed
home, filling buckets of water at night from a neighbor's spigot. And in
a gated Windermere neighborhood, the homeowner contracted with a salvage
company to strip everything from the liriope grass bordering the drive
to the soaking tub in the master bath.
"I have seen vandalism and such in the REO [real-estate-owned]
properties that have been taken back by eviction," Welch said. "And I
have heard plenty of people express their anger at the banks."