Friday, December 31, 2010

New Jersey Minority Senior Citizens Forced Out of Homes

by JuJuBe (Joanna)

Imagine for a moment that you are in the twilight years of your life. You have been living in a home that you purchased with pride 30 or more years ago. You are surrounded by your children and grandchildren, and the community that you have grown to love. You should be spending the rest of your days in the house that you turned into a home.

Instead, all of a sudden, that home that you spend so many years in is being snatched out from under you. For no good reason except pure greed.
Arlington, Va.—Just three days before Christmas, Nancy Lopez was notified that she has until January 15, 2011, to accept the offer made for her home by the Township of Mount Holly, N.J., or have it seized through eminent domain. Merry Christmas, Nancy.

Last week, she received an appraisal for her home in the Gardens neighborhood of Mount Holly. Township officials have been systematically dismantling her close-knit community of row houses that up until recently was home to more than 300 families. Since 2003, the Township bought more than 200 homes under the threat of eminent domain, and if the remaining owners don’t accept the appraisals being sent to them this holiday season, their homes will be condemned against their will early in the New Year.

The Township wants to give the land to Philadelphia developer Keating Urban Partners, which plans to build hundreds of higher-priced townhouses, apartments and a business center. According to Pulte Home’s website, some of the new town homes will sell for in the upper $200s.

Most of the people being forced out of their homes are in there 70s, 80s or even their 90s. The majority are Black or Hispanic. Almost all have lived in their homes for over 30 years, and were first time home buyers. Now, they are being forced out so that a private developer can turn their neighborhood into an upscale and unrecognizable profit making machine.

And to make the circumstances even more unbearable, the town has been demolishing houses that are connected to homes that are still occupied, causing mold infestations and structural damage. Many of the residents of the Gardens who are being forced out of their homes have experienced serious health complications and family tragedies since the plan to seize their homes was first unveiled. This is not the type of concern that some of our most vulnerable, senior citizens, need to be preoccupied with at this point in their lives.

Now, instead of enjoying the rest of their lives spending time with family in a safe, familiar environment, the residents of these homes will have to adjust to living in rental units that are not nearly as nice as their present surroundings.

Eminent domain laws are supposed to apply in cases where land is intended to be used for public facilities- roads or schools. Instead, there are numerous cases of eminent domain abuse, where homeowners are being forced out of their residences in order to facilitate private development, purely in pursuit of profit.

Local community group Citizens in Action has been working with the Institute for Justice to fight blatant abuse of the law of eminent domain. Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice represented Susette Kelo and her neighbors before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, as well as homeowners in Long Branch, N.J., and others across the nation.
“This is eminent domain abuse at its worst,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “The Mount Holly landgrab is reminiscent of urban renewal of the 40s and 50s. Township officials are targeting a lower-income, mostly elderly and minority community for a rich developer. As the NAACP noted in its amicus brief on behalf of the homeowners in Kelo, the ability to use eminent domain for private development shifts the burden of economic development onto the shoulders of those least able to bear it. That is precisely what we are seeing happen in Mount Holly.”

In Kelo, the U.S. Supreme Court infamously ruled that private property can be taken for private development based on the mere promise of increased tax revenue. “Across the country, development projects that have relied on the use of eminent domain have failed miserably to fulfill their promises,” said Bullock. “Just look at New London: After years of litigation, millions in tax payer dollars and a U.S. Supreme Court case, the land is now barren, the developer balked and Pfizer—for whom the private development was designed to complement—left town. Mount Holly officials should heed a lesson from the disastrous New London project.”

The primary victims of eminent domain abuse are the poor, minorities and the less educated. New Jersey's eminent domain law has been misused in at least 123 municipalities in order to force people out of their homes to facilitate private development. Activists and homeowners are hoping that the legislature will intervene and bring a stop to this tragic situation!

No one should be forced out of their own home simply because the town or city has decided that profit is more important than living, breathing human beings. Seizing the assets of those who have the least to put them in the hands of those who have the most, the big developers, is a travesty of justice, and must be stopped!

But, sadly, greed seems to be "the American Way"


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