Bureaucratic Dirty Tricks Bankrupting Homeowners
By Mark Anderson
The city of New London, Conn., is not happy with just taking citizens’ property. Now they are out for blood, say residents. Since the now infamous U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 23 in the Kelo vs. New London eminent domain case, New London bureaucrats are trying to say that, while fighting for their private property, affected homeowners in the city’s Fort Trumbull area were living on borrowed land and owe the government money.
In effect, New London is arguing that, even though the court had yet to decide, the homeowners’ land was “city land” for the duration of the lawsuit and that homeowners owe penalties and rent to the city. “It’s a new definition of chutzpah: Confiscate land and charge back rent for the years the owners fought confiscation,” is how The New Haven Advocate described the situation.
This city tactic is based on the assumption that those who legally resist handing over their homes to the government, even though they may still be paying property taxes like any other homeowner, are mere renters and must pay five years of back rent since the city first started condemning and bulldozing homes in October 2000.
This approach is viewed as raw retribution by the court case’s namesake, Susette Kelo, and the other nearby homeowners who some have likened to that famous, nameless lone sole who stood up against Chinese tanks in 1989 during the communist government’s crackdown on a budding democracy movement.
The web site, cottagecoalition.org, tells the story of Kelo, Matt Dery and the other few, brave people who have held out against what many observers see as the city’s shameless onslaught against property rights.
Beginning in 2000, the city announced its plan to attempt to revitalize the supposedly ailing Fort Trumbull area by replacing many homes, including those of Kelo, Dery and a few other holdouts, with a hotel, a conference center, offices and upscale housing that would complement the adjoining Pfizer pharmaceutical facility.
The city, citing eminent domain, condemned the homes, told the owners to move and began leveling surrounding houses. Dery owns four buildings on the project site, including his home and the birthplace and lifelong home of
his 87-year-old mother, Wilhelmina.
This back rent—unless the determined lawyers for the homeowners can prove otherwise—could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Moreover, as The New Haven Advocate noted, the amount of money the city had offered to “buy out” these remaining Fort Trumbull homeowners is based on the market rate from the year 2000. Thus the “back rent” could easily be more than the homeowners might get in the buy out, completely nullifying the constitutional concept that those who surrender private property to the government should receive “just compensation.”
What has really raised Americans’ hackles in this court ruling is that the government can now serve as an intermediary, wresting land from private landowners by exercising eminent domain powers and conveying it to other private interests instead of limiting such takings to clearly defined public uses like parks, highways and military bases.
“I can’t replace what I have in this market for three times [the 2000 assessment],” Dery, 48, who works as a home delivery sales manager for The New London Day, told the Advocate.
He soothes himself with humor: “It’s a lot like what I like to do in the stock market: buy high and sell low.” Dery has been assessed $6,100 per month, which will total more than $300,000.
Another resident, William von Winkle, could owe the city $200,000 in back rent. And Kelo, who owns a modest, pink, single-family house with her husband, believes she would owe around $57,000.
She told AFP soon after the high court’s 5-4 ruling that she could easily be forced from her beloved home broke— not only without a home but also without any money to get another one.
“I could probably get a large-size refrigerator box and live under the bridge,” she told the Advocate.
(Issue #37, September 12, 2005)