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The United States’ postwar housing policy created the world’s largest middle class. It also set America on two divergent paths -- one of imagined wealth, propped up by speculation and endless booms and busts, and the other in systematically defunded, segregated communities, where “the American dream” feels hopelessly out of reach.

Owned is a fever dream vision into the dark history behind the US housing economy. Tracking its overtly racist beginnings and its unbridled commoditization, the film exposes a foundational story that few Americans understand as their own.

In 2008, the US housing market became the epicenter of an unprecedented global economic collapse. In the years since, protests in cities like Baltimore have highlighted the stark racial disparities that define many American cities. The crash of suburbia and urban unrest are not unrelated -- they are two sides of the same coin, two divergent paths set in motion by the United States’ post-war housing policy.

 “Home ownership to me means freedom — strictly. The more and more I evaluate this world, the more and more I understand: when you don’t own anything, you are nothing.”

- Greg Butler, featured in Owned

The prevailing narrative is that the migration from American cities that began in the 1950’s, often referred to as “white flight,” was caused by the degradation of city centers and the growth of suburbia. But this was neither a matter of preference, nor a “natural” self-segregation.
 

After World War II, the US government sought to provide housing for returning veterans and their families, while enabling them to build wealth through homeownership. Postwar policies spurred a decades-long construction boom and enabled millions of Americans to buy homes -- and they benefited white people exclusively. Racial segregation determined how communities grew, and government policies directly subsidized white America, while denying opportunities to black people and other minorities.

Through the stories of a retired New York City cop, an eccentric Orange County realtor, and an aspiring real estate developer in Baltimore, Owned explores the promise of US housing policies, the systematic oppression in many of America’s “chocolate cities,” and the communities that these systems have created. The film suggests that ultimately, these communities have more in common than they might expect.