You really have to see this one to believe it:
The video above was just released by the Institute for Justice. It begins with an elderly woman lamenting:
When my son came back from Kuwait he couldn’t believe it. He said, “Mom, what’s going on?” And I said, well they want to get rid of us and they’re finally doing it. He was upset. He said, “I’m sorry, I’m halfway around the world to help other people and I can’t even help my own mom keep her own home.”
For the past ten years, township officials in Mount Holly have been destroying a close-knit community called the Gardens. They’ve been recklessly bulldozing select individual row-houses — even when they are attached to occupied homes — to make way for fancier homes for richer people. The current owners have never been offered a place in the new redevelopment, or enough money to buy comparable home nearby.
A new Institute for Justice study, available here, shows that this redevelopment project may result in a loss of one million dollars every year, one tenth of the township’s budget.
Despite these terrible conditions, the community never gave up hope. They continued to fight against all odds for their cherished neighborhood. And on Wednesday, a federal court came to their defense.
The Third Circuit issued a ruling that prohibits the city from moving forward with eminent domain against the homeowners involved in the lawsuit until they have a chance to let their voice be heard in court. The ruling likely means that the neighborhood has another year to fight for and save their community.
Without this ruling, the neighborhood would have likely been completely destroyed before the end of the month.
Activism expert Christina Walsh of the Institute for Justice has been working with the homeowners in their grassroots fight. They launched a major billboard campaign (see above), generated positive local media coverage, ran full-page ads, held events, and more. Christina has visited the residents numerous times over the past year, and described her experience in the Gardens recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Nancy Lopez raised five children on her own, and they have since gone on to college and joined the working world. She sometimes worked two jobs to afford the mortgage on her three-bedroom house in the Gardens. And now the township is telling Lopez that her home, her efforts, and her memories aren’t good enough.
Down the block, Leona Wright just turned 92. When she moved into the Gardens, her son was in the third grade. Her late husband was a World War II veteran, and they moved to the Gardens because they thought they could put down roots there. They bought two rowhouses and combined them into one, now meticulously decorated with family photos and memorabilia.
These women and their neighbors loved the Gardens. They relied on one another and helped raise each other’s children. Over the years, they’ve held block cleanup competitions, festivals, and talent shows. Their mutual concern for each other was the lifeblood of this community, and the township has drained it without a second thought.
And yet despite the best efforts of tax-hungry politicians and land-hungry developers, the Gardens will not be completely destroyed anytime soon.
Mount Holly shows us that more work is needed in our nationwide fight to end eminent domain abuse. But it also shows us that a small band of committed activists, working together, can triumph over Big Government.
We are hopeful that with this week’s ruling the Gardens will ultimately prevail.
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