‘Why should people care?’: BEHIND ON RENT premieres with call to action

More than 150 lawmakers, advocates, leaders, and others gathered virtually Dec. 18 to watch and discuss the premiere of BEHIND ON RENT a new short film that highlights Nebraska's affordable housing and eviction crisis.

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More than 150 Nebraskans – including state and local lawmakers, community advocates, neighborhood leaders, and philanthropists – gathered virtually on Dec. 18 for the premiere of Behind on Rent, a new short film highlighting the affordable housing and eviction crisis in Nebraska.

For several months during the 2020 pandemic, Lincoln filmmaker Gabriella Parsons followed four Nebraska tenants and their struggles to attain housing security amid economic and public health uncertainty. The resulting half-hour film, set in Lincoln and Omaha, highlights the human toll of the state’s burgeoning eviction crisis as well as the efforts to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.

“I’m immensely grateful to the individuals we interviewed who trusted us to tell their stories,” Parsons said. “Without their vulnerability and willingness to share, this film simply would not have been realized.”

The film, commissioned by History Nebraska, The South of Downtown Community Development Organization, and the Nebraska Housing Developers Association, premiered as part of Speak Up For Housing Rights, a campaign powered by more than a dozen educational, civic, and arts groups in Lincoln and Nebraska. The coalition aims to rally its community to comprehensively confront the deepening eviction crisis. Civic Nebraska and its Collective Impact Lincoln partners are members of the Speak Up alliance.

The film opens with National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 30 to 40 million American renters are at risk of eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Nebraska, an estimated 192,000 to 256,000 renters are at risk. And Behind on Rent closes with a grim warning: On Jan. 31, 2021, the national Centers for Disease Control eviction moratorium expires, which leaves no protections in place for vulnerable renters.

Despite the moratorium, evictions have proceeded across the state throughout 2020. In addition to sharing tenants’ stories, Behind on Rent also highlights the people and organizations that are coming to Nebraskans’ aid, including the Tenant Assistance Project of Lincoln, a group of attorneys and others who volunteer to represent people facing eviction in court.

The Dec. 18 roundtable panel included Parsons plus Isabel Salas of the South of Downtown CDO and Mindy Rush Chipman, director of the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights. Steve Smith, director of communications at Civic Nebraska, moderated the interactive event.

Parsons said Behind on Rent challenges popular narratives that eviction is always the fault of the tenant. Rather than focusing squarely on specific reasons why each individual faced housing difficulties, Behind on Rent examines the legal barriers and history of evictions. Those include landlord-tenant law to racial segregation to redlining, as well as systemic inequalities that continue to contribute to eviction today.

“My hope is that by the end of the film, viewers not only have empathy for people who are experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness but also that viewers are able to better understand what evictions have to do with them,” she said. “Why should people care? Why does it matter to our community? Right now, during a pandemic, we’re really seeing the interconnectivity and intersectionality of these issues.”

Learn more at SpeakUpLNK.org.

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