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    We’re all renters now

    Damn. So that’s how this ends.

    “I have to look out for the city as a whole, not just a few people,” says Mayor Ernest Hewett, who vacillates between “feeling the residents’ pain” and disparaging the neighborhood, which houses a waste water treatment plant. “People were running from the Fort Trumbull area two or three years ago because of the smell. No one would actually buy a house in the Fort Trumbull area.”

    Yet that’s just what Susette Kelo and her husband did in 1997. Not far from Wilhelmina Dery’s place, they purchased a delightful pink two-bedroom house on the southeast corner of East Street, that boulevard of broken dreams with a dangerously insufficient radii. Kelo enjoys a view as lively and varied as this traditionally immigrant neighborhood once was, with its auto shops, corner store, factory, café, construction companies, and social club. (As the government lawyers point out, such a mixed-use neighborhood no longer conforms to the city’s code and therefore is truly a thing of the past.) In one direction, she can watch ferry boats head to Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. In other directions, she can gaze at petroleum tanks, the stacks of a factory, sailboats parked in a marina, and even the tip of Long Island. The earth-tone-and-glass Pfizer complex is also in view. From her back porch, she takes in the roof tops and thick green foliage of New London.

    Kelo arrived home the day before Thanksgiving in 2000 and saw something else: eminent domain paperwork stuck to her door. It gave her until March 2001 to leave the home she loves behind. In the meantime, it demanded she pay rent of $500 a month (in Connecticut, the government technically owns the property once they serve eminent domain papers). The lawsuit, which bears her name, is holding off her eviction for now. But if she loses, she’ll be a victim whose dreams have been paved over by progress, government style, in which the rights of citizens to their homes are trumped by the pressing need for increased corner radii.

    Read the reasoning behind the New London city government’s move to confiscate the Kelos’ property. You’ll no longer wonder why some people snap and become loony libertarians.

    Added on a tea break: I think I’ve snapped and become a loony libertarian. You know, my parents rented a very small townhouse the whole time I was growing up. We lived comfortably, but our means were straitened.

    By saving and planning, they were able to buy a pretty spacious house a few miles outside of town. It was solid and had an acre or two of property with it, but it had been abandoned by tax evaders and not tended to for a few years. In the interim, it had also been broken into by pranksters who spraypainted the place and started a fire in one of the showers and dumped things on the carpets–the sort of non-structural damage that just needs a lot of sweat equity. Nine years of sweat equity later, the place is very nice, filled with furniture my father built (his hobby) in the garage, and well-maintained. So, having grown up in a family that was rising into the middle class, I feel a special sadness and anger in knowing that the door has been opened for a lot of people’s fixer-uppers to be treated as, effectively, single-unit public housing.

    Of course, if you’re a random American, the probability that your property will happen to catch the covetous eye of a “development”-minded municipal official is likely to remain low, no matter how bad the orgy of confiscation that’s almost certainly coming actually gets. But that’s just statistics. Once you’re living in a state in which every county has decided to commandeer just a few homeowners’ properties for some cockamamie plan or other, you’re not likely to be motivated to fix up a usable but ramshackle old area house, especially if you’re in a modest income bracket and will be doing most of the work yourself and on a limited budget. It’s neighborhoods of people who aren’t rich or influential that tend to get hit with these things, and those who live in them know it.

    4 Responses to “We’re all renters now”

    1. Eric Scheie says:

      In certain places like Berkeley, California, crowd-pleasing politicians might take a different tack. The “rich” (actually they’re not really rich, but who cares?) tend to live in “nicer” areas which are said to be lacking in “low income housing.” Berkeley Marxists have long dreamed of building low income housing (aka “projects”) in wealthy neighborhoods, but they’ve been hampered by financial considerations. Now, they can simply “condemn” affluent homes to hand them over to developers promising to build low income housing. Take from “the rich” and give to “the poor.”

      I can’t imagine a greater public benefit — short of razing entire neighborhoods to “restore the environment.”

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Section 8 comes to the Berkeley Hills!

      I still think that in most places, it’s the more run-down places that city politicians are likely to be looking for excuses to transform. But your point (by implication) is right: it’s wrong no matter whom it’s done to.

    3. I was going to post a comment, but it ended up turning into a long rant.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks for posting the link with local info. I thought myself while reading through the decision and concurrence that, while it may be true in terms of judicial process that there’s no compelling reason to question the New London government’s judgement about how best to revitalize Fort Trumbull, in real-life terms there’s plenty of worry. If you’ve ever so much as walked by the Jane Jacobs shelf at Borders, you know that municipalities are notorious for coming under the sway of Radical Atriumists and building hypertrophied projects that don’t bring in people or money.

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