by Bonnie Anderson & Dan Webster
“Show me a Hero” is a new HBO miniseries that aired August 16. The angst in this HOB mini series is about the building and integration of low income public housing in Yonkers, NY in the late 1980s.
Backdrop for the series:
The original intent of the Housing Act of 1937 was to boost the economy with jobs and to provide safe housing for low income families. Originally prospective tenants were screened to determine that their income was not higher than five times the rental cost of the unit. Revised in 1949, the Housing Act included subsidized housing programs other than public housing and had a priority for very low income people. The “perks” for builders and private developers escalated.
Gradually, higher income tenants moved from public housing and preferences on waiting lists were granted to the most disadvantaged applicants (homeless and displaced). Due to income levels, minorities had few opportunities to take advantage of government subsidies promoting home ownership and by the mid-1980s the public housing population was composed of a more disadvantaged segment of society. The housing projects were racially segregated.
“Show me a Hero” is a glimpse into the political, personal and social issues raised when a community is faced with significant change. Similar to two other series, Treme and The Wire, also created by David Simon, “Show me a Hero” gradually exposes institutional and personal racism, bringing it to the forefront as the 85% white community of Yonkers, New York, vehemently opposes court-ordered integration of public housing.
Young, newly elected mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac) faces into the challenge of the court order and the widespread public resistance. Program Creator, David Simon is a master at the juxtaposition between people of power and those without it by giving the viewer a look into the struggles of regular people living on the edge of poverty and the struggle of a person in power attempting to hold true to a view of the larger good. The series is full of moral truth, simple humanity and unexpected hope. Unfortunately, the miniseries provides a small glimpse into a housing crisis that still exists today and is perpetuated by institutional racism.
Viewers may catch parts 5 & 6 of “Show me a Hero” on Sunday, August 30 on HBO at 8:00 PM.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels.