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Unhousing

March 19, 2014 | by

Foreclosed homes as haunted houses.

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Photo: Casey Serin

My wife and I began searching for a house in 2008, just as the market was crashing, just as those first waves of foreclosed homes and short sales were hitting the market. Priced out of Los Angeles real estate for so long, we were finally able to afford houses whose prices had been ridiculously inflated only six months earlier. Occasionally we went to those open houses with smiling realtors and bowls of candy set out, where owners had recently landscaped or repainted to enhance value, but we could never seriously consider any of these. The homes that mattered had lock boxes, were abandoned or in the process of being abandoned—the ones that reeked of disrepair and despair.

We spent the summer touring nearly every distressed property in the neighborhoods East of Hollywood: Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Atwater Village—every abandoned or half-abandoned monstrosity and beloved ruin, looking for a home. I still have a hard time articulating the sense of dread and fascination those houses stirred in me. The feeling of moving through these spaces—particularly as we were visiting seven or eight of them in an afternoon—was indescribable. A sense of wrongness pervaded so many of these homes. I’m not superstitious—I don’t believe in spirits or forces or haunted houses—but much of our lexicon in these cases depends on notions of the supernatural; in the end, the only word that seems useful for talking about the houses is unheimlich—a German word, literally “unhomely” or “not of the home,” “unfamiliar.” It’s more idiomatically translated as “uncanny”: a word that Freud plucked and repurposed from the realm of the supernatural. Read More »

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