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    Boom: The Sound of Eviction

    Boom and gloom

    For those who didn't pocket millions of dollars in Internet riches, the economic boom of the '90s meant astronomic rents and a battle to save their neighborhood, as documented in "Boom: The Sound of Eviction."


    The "Boom" in this movie's title doesn't just refer to the sound of doors slamming or buildings being demolished — it's also a reference to the soaring Internet economy that reshaped life in the Bay Area in the 1990s. The documentary focuses on what happened to San Francisco's poor, heavily Hispanic Mission district as yuppies with free-flowing venture-capital money in their pockets caused rents two to double and triple and forced the working-class natives out.

    Produced by: Francine Cavanaugh, A. Mark Liiv, Jeff Taylor, Adams Wood.
    Featuring: Roger Marenco, Lola McKay, Ted Gullickson, Renee Saucedo, Lesley Anderson, Willie Brown, Cathy Acosta, Lavelle Jones, Cassi Feldman, Chris Daly, Oscar Grande, Rene Poitevin, Krissy Keefer, Maria Poblet, Ricardo Cartagena..

    Related links: Official site
    This is an interesting enough film for dramatizing the gentrification process and the organization of residents against it, but what it really captures is something a little more specific than that — the sudden human cataclysm caused by the dot-com craze, by people suddenly and irrationally throwing billions of dollars where they didn't belong. A process that usually lasts decades was taking place all at once, with lofts going in for half a million dollars or more, and in a metropolitan area with a one-percent vacancy rate, the evictees had nowhere to turn.

    Resident Roger Marenco thanks supporters in his neighborhood in San Francisco's Mission district. in Boom: The Sound of Eviction  
    Resident Roger Marenco thanks supporters in his neighborhood in San Francisco's Mission district.
    And the film is unusual not only for its look at gentrification but also for its angle on the Internet phenomenon. While a number of films (most famously "") have chronicled the giddy roller-coaster ride of the late '90s from the perspective of spoiled 20-somethings rolling in money, "Boom" takes the opposite perspective, focusing on those who were affected precisely because they were not part of the Internet economy's privileged class.

    The documentary follows several individual stories, including that of elderly Lola McKay, who died while being evicted, her cause taken up before and after her death by neighborhood protesters who organized against the evictions. It also keeps an eye on the family of Cathy Acosta, being thrown out of her place in in nearby Oakland, as she crams her kids into a friend's living room while looking fruitlessly for a place under $2,000 that accepts children anywhere in the Bay Area. And it focuses on the family of Roger Marenco, a young man who rallies his Mission neighbors to save his family from eviction.

    In the end, neighborhood activism saved some people but what slammed the brakes on gentrification was the economic collapse. Major projects that were developer's dreams during the making of the movie never actually got built. (My sister, who was pushed out of the nearby Castro district at the same time, kept pointing out constructions sites that are now holes in the ground while we watched the movie.) The yuppie invasion got stopped halfway.

    So what's especially interesting in "Boom" is the turning point that usually takes years but here was happening all at once — the tense moment between the arrival of the first boutique and the disappearance of the last working-class family and starving artist. Gentrification is a dirty word to a lot of New Yorkers, San Franciscans and, quite likely, the filmmakers themselves. They show Mayor Willie Brown at his worst, blithely claiming that change is healthy without considering the human consequences for lifelong working-class San Franciscans. Yet, I think there's a period in every neighborhood where a little incoming money does a lot of good, and it's worth thinking more deeply about what we see happening in the Mission and elsewhere.

      What's interesting is the turning point that usually takes years but here was happening all at once — the tense moment between the arrival of the first boutique and the disappearance of the last working-class family and starving artist.
    "The situation in our building is, it was vacant for five or six years," one incoming CEO tells the filmmakers as a limousine passes behind him. "This neighborhood was full of coke whores and heroine addicts — they were right on the front steps here, they were breaking the windows — and we come in and I think we've been pretty responsible community members."

    This man may not be seeing the neighborhood for what it is, but at a certain level he is not wrong — a neighborhood with empty, trashed buildings and desperate people is in a lot of trouble. But what residents are afraid of is not his good will in reviving an abandoned building — they're looking at what he represents, a latte-powered invading army that's about to drive them from their homes.

    I think there's a middle ground. There's a period of time in a gentrifying neighborhood where workers and artists and professionals and senior citizens and families with kids are all sharing the same space — and maybe the challenge is not keeping the yuppies out, as such, but keeping everyone else in. The real problem is to keep the neighborhood stable, the rents affordable, and the long-term residents protected somehow. That requires a better commitment to affordable housing in the political system, but there are things that can be done at the grass roots, even in Republican-ruled laissez-faire America. "Boom" shows how one community under fire tried to make this happen, and it's a story that New Yorkers should pay particular attention to.

    DECEMBER 17, 2002

    Reader comments on Boom: The Sound of Eviction:

  • Lola McKay   from Maureen Riordan Nanny, Sep 10, 2013

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