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An Indiana city is planning to use eminent domain to bulldoze a 74-year-old neighborhood to make way for a real estate development.
The city of Charlestown wants to demolish 354 homes for new residential development, and it would pay for it with federal funds.
Charlestown’s city council has declared the entire neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge — where some families have owned homes for more than 40 years — “blighted.” By using that term, it can throw out the mostly working class residents and tear down their homes to make way for new retail and residential development.
“There are 65 families, and that’s just the ones I know about there, and most of them are elderly and have had their houses paid for, for years,” Pleasant Ridge resident Judy Hogan said. “Where are they going to go and find another house for what they are going to get paid for them?”
Homeowners in the area are particularly upset because federal grant money would pay them just $15,000 to $25,000 for each home. Supposedly, city money or developer money would make up the difference to reach full sale price, the mayor said.
The purchase of the properties would be paid for with $5.3 million in federal funds dispersed by Indiana’s Blight Elimination Program. Homeowners that did not want to move would have their properties seized through eminent domain.
“If owners refuse to sell their homes, the city has stated that it will take the homes through eminent domain,” said Melinda Haring, an attorney for the Institute of Justice.
Where Will Residents Move?
“We have to move Charlestown forward,” Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall said at a city council meeting in May. Hall claimed that Pleasant Ridge residents would be eligible to live in senior housing in the redeveloped neighborhood. Yet he also acknowledged he did not know what exactly would replace their homes.
Residents insist many of them would have no place to go.
“What they [city officials] don’t understand is all those low-income people that they say are the crime people that are causing the problem, where are they going to go?” Pleasant Ridge resident Josh Craven asked. “They are going to be up here in Charlestown in another community ruining it.”
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“They are not taking our property. I am proud to live up there,” he told the News and Tribune newspaper. “I have lived up there my whole life.”
Since May, the city has withdrawn its application for the funds but plans to reapply. The Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association has organized opposition and enlisted the help of the Institute for Justice — a libertarian legal group. The association also has worked to improve the neighborhood.
74-Year-Old Neighborhood Declared ‘Temporary’
City officials claim they can tear down the homes under state law because they were constructed as “temporary” structures. The structures have been there since 1940, when the Army built them during World War II.
The city also claims that many of the residents are “transients.”
The claim that the neighborhood is blighted is dubious to some residents who have well-groomed lawns and new siding and decks. David Keith has owned a home in Pleasant Ridge since 1968.
“We’re not transients,” said Dave’s wife, Ellen Keith. “We’re real people. These people are my real neighbors, and I love my neighbors. … My house is not for sale.”
Haring believes that Charlestown’s government is abusing a federal law designed to help communities recover from the economic meltdown of 2008.
“The recession of 2008 is over,” Haring said. “The economy is growing, and cities and developers are once again looking to eminent domain to obtain land from property owners who won’t sell. Charlestown is a poster child of the new wave of abuse.”
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