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Our Homes Are No Longer Our Castles


By James Donahue

June 2005


We thought the federal Patriot Act, that gives police the right to bug and enter our homes without warrants as part of the “war on terror” was about as bad as things could get.


Now we learn of a decision by the U. S. Supremes that gives cities the power to seize people’s homes and businesses against their will and turn the property over to private developers to build motels, restaurants and malls “for the good of the community.”


The high court in a 5-4 decision this week 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 now 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 suddenly 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 Leonard Hool, 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.


Mr. Hool, 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 Hool 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. Mr. Hool’s neighborhood demolition project was abandoned.


That was the way things used to happen in America.


If that council had this new 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.


Nothing blighted about that neighborhood. There never was.

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