“Versailles”: Mortgage Meltdown Casualty (Videos)

As president, George W. Bush, arguably even more than predecessor Bill Clinton, made boosting the nation’s homeownership rate a central feature of domestic policy. The eventual mortgage meltdown was very much a product of that drive. Aggressive mortgage lending and securitization in the hopes of “reaching” marginally qualified borrowers – many of whom are time share buyers – created an unsustainable house of cards.

Is it possible to be sympathetic toward an ostentatious Florida billionaire family at risk of losing their unfinished dream home – the largest residence in the U.S. – because of a mortgage crisis which, in a modest way, they helped to create? Actually, it is…sort of. A new movie documentary, “The Queen of Versailles,” shows why. Intentionally or not, it also makes a powerful case for why government shouldn’t cover losses incurred by high-rolling lending and borrowing.

I caught “The Queen of Versailles” a week ago at my favorite art house theater, the multiplex crowds for “The Dark Knight Rises” not yet having thinned out to my liking. It was a smart choice. The film, directed by photographer extraordinaire Lauren Greenfield and debuting this past January at the Sundance Film Festival (she won Best Director in the documentary category), is about the ultimate American real estate white elephant, a 90,000-square-foot unfinished palace near Orlando, Florida, and more centrally, the family hoping to inhabit it. But deep down, this reality TV-style trip is a parable about the addictive nature of money, the downfall of people who can’t say “no” to what it can buy, and the difficulty in reconciling one’s self to reality. In other words, it’s about the power of denial over the human mind.

The undeniable reality of the 10-acre, $75 million lakefront palace, fittingly named “Versailles,” is that it’s been vacant, unfinished and padlocked for virtually all of the last few years. Work very recently resumed, but it likely will be years before this house becomes a home. Moving day can’t come soon enough for its owner, David Siegel, one of the richest men in America – assuming he lives long enough to celebrate.


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