Our Homes Are No Longer Our Castles
By James Donahue
Armed with five extreme politically right-wing thinking
members, the U. S. Supreme Court has been busy destroying individual constitutional
freedoms and turning the power of the nation over to bankers and big corporations.
Everybody knows about the Patriot Act, which gives police
and the government the right to tap into private electronic mail and other communications without a court order.
It also is well known that the Supreme “gang of five”
last year gave big corporations the power to finance political candidates. The court recently voted to deny individual political
donors in Arizona from collectively pooling money to try to balance the scales for candidates not supported by corporate bosses.
What few people In America realize is that the court voted
by that same 5-4 vote a year or two ago to give cities and local governments the power to seize people’s homes and businesses
against their will for private corporate development. They can do this to built motels, restaurants and malls “for the
good of the community.”
The old laws gave governments a similar power of condemnation
in cases where construction of bridges, roadways or other public services was necessary for the overall improvement of the
community. In these cases, the property owner was given fair compensation for the property.
The high court in a 5-4 decision ruled in favor of the town
fathers of New London, Connecticut, who wanted to demolish private riverfront property to make room for a high-priced riverfront
development for big business interests.
The court decision thus grants cities wide power to bulldoze
entire housing districts to make way for hotel complexes and shopping malls that will generate larger tax revenues.
The judges basically said that local “officials”
know best in deciding if a development project will benefit the community as a whole. That is not necessarily true.
Some years back my wife and I bought an old house in a somewhat
dilapidated neighborhood and started a remodeling and restoration project. We did it because restoring old houses was a hobby
we shared at the time, and because the home was something we could afford to invest in at that time.
While involved in extensive work in plumbing, wiring, insulating,
roofing, painting and remodeling that little bungalow, we noticed something peculiar happening. Other young couples were buying
some of the other older homes in the neighborhood and they were doing the same thing. We had a wonderful restoration of an
entire neighborhood happening.
I was working as a bureau news reporter in that community,
and my beat included covering the affairs of city government. One night at a local planning commission meeting, I watched
in horror as a hired planning consultant outlined a plan for a major city-wide renovation that included the complete demolition
of our neighborhood to make room for a new industrial park.
This consultant, who did not live in our town and had no
knowledge of the magic that was going on in our neighborhood, perceived the older homes to be a blight because they provided
a lower tax base than other parts of town. That the town job market offered low to moderate paying jobs that forced the work
force to live in neighborhoods like ours did not seem to register with this man or the members of the planning body. He, as
did the well-heeled members of the town council, reasoned that anything done to raise the tax base and generate more revenue
for city operations was a good idea.
I wrote stories and before a public hearing was held on
the plan, I went door-to-door through our neighborhood like a modern-day Paul Revere, sounding a call for everyone to attend
that hearing. We were facing the possibility of losing our homes.
We showed up at that hearing as a well-organized group and
spoke against the demolition of our homes in a solid, united voice.
We argued that the neighborhood was necessary as a place
for the majority of the people in our community, who work in the various stores and factories and earn moderate wages, to
live. Take away neighborhoods like ours, and the town’s employees would be forced to live and perhaps work in other
places. That did not make sense. The city council listened and agreed. The neighborhood demolition project was abandoned.
That was the way things used to happen in America.
If that council had this Supreme Court ruling to back it
up in those days, I think things might have turned out differently. We could have had our homes taken from us without warning
and then stood homeless in the street watching them get bulldozed to the ground.
Incidentally, I bought that house for about $7,000 on a
land contract back in 1962. It still stands today, looking even nicer than it did on the day we sold it. Someone has added
a garage and there have been other improvements made. I doubt if the same house could be bought for less than $60,000 today.
There is nothing blighted about that neighborhood. There