-An entire community has been torn from its
roots for a wealthy developer’s private profit. Lives have been destroyed for a project that
may ultimately fail. -This is what happens when eminent domain is
abused for private gain. The Gardens was home to more than a thousand
residents in the southern New Jersey township of Mount Holly. Since it was built in the 1950’s
it has attracted hard-working first-time homeowners. -I’ve lived here when my
son was in 3rd grade, and now he’s a grandfather so approximately 36 years ago. -My parents came from Puerto Rico,
I grew up in New York but I chose Mount Holly to be my home, and I’ve been here for 24 years.
-It was affordable so I moved here, I rented for 1 year and
have owned my home for 19 years -It was a close and vibrant community where
neighbors took care of one another and watched over each other’s children. -We use to play football out in the front, in the street, and all the kids would come out. Everybody’s kids would be there and they knew
they were with Mr. Cruz so they didn’t mind.
-My kids used to leave their bikes outside, not tied down or nothing, no chains. I used to sleep with my door open. Everybody
knew just come in to Ms. Nancy’s house
-We had talent shows with our kids. We had just about everything you could think of that made it nice for the children. But the township had other plans for the gardens. 10 years ago officials decided to clear out
the three hundred garden style row homes so Keating, a Philadelphia developer, could build luxury
apartments and townhouses. -They mentioned in the newspaper that the town was going to use eminent domain to take the homes, and then when we went to the township meetings, they denied that they ever said it. But fortunately one of the ladies
had the copy of it and then they said we’re not discussing
that now. -If this was a school or maybe a road, I can understand-okay, well
I can’t live in the middle of the road, but they’re building homes here. So why can’t we be part of this new neighborhood
that they’re gonna redevelop? -The township began dismantling the neighborhood, buying up homes using the threat of eminent
domain and either boring them up or tearing them down, even while connected to occupied homes. Santos witnessed the township’s reckless demolitions
first-hand. -When they started demolishing homes they never took into account, made no plans,
that there was adjacent homes there. They just went in with the bulldozer
destroying properties, hitting them, and then not taking responsibility. They hit my home, they damaged my property
and then claimed not to have done it. Gardens residents have been living in an urban
renewal war zone. -I’m afraid to even stay here by myself when
my kids go out, and they’re grown-they can’t be with me 24/7.
-3 days before Christmas the remaining homeowners were told they had to accept the
township’s final offers for their homes or have them taken away.
-When I saw the envelope, I didn’t want to open it because I knew what it was. It was something bad. It was from the Mally
Group, and my heart just sank. And I had just bought the Christmas tree, and
it was standing there, so when I came home from work we could decorate it. And my whole world just shattered, and, you know,
I started crying and my kids said, “Don’t worry mom, everything’s gonna
be OK. You know, we’re going to decorate it, and we’re not gonna let them ruin our Christmas. -The mayor claims he’s destroying the Gardens for the betterment of the community. But now it looks like this project may result
in the loss of a million dollars a year. That’s ten percent of the township’s budget.
-The whole township is gonna suffer for these uncontrolled ideas of grandeur.
-They did not consult with us or talk with us. If they came and said, “well we want to
do this” and so and sat down and talk together we could have
worked out something without all this hassle. -All the remaining homeowners want is to stay in their community. -When I bought the house I thought I’d be here the rest of my days. -My children are here, my roots are here, my grandkids live around
the neighborhood. I don’t want to go nowhere. I want to stay in Mount Holly. -But the township refuses to offer them replacement
housing in the new development and is offering them less than half of how
much would cost to buy a smaller version of their homes just a few blocks away. -Why, if they’re doubling the amount of units that they’re
gonna make here that were pre-existing, why can’t we get a home there? Why can’t they make room for us and keep our community together? The Gardens homeowners have worked hard their
entire lives to earn their homes. -I’ve had 2 jobs. Sometimes I’ve had one
job and school at one time, and my children also, and they’re home owners, and they got that from me.
We’re working people who know the value of what’s important, home, good family, good values, they’ve learned that from me. -This abuse is emblematic of New Jersey’s eminent
domain law, which is in desperate need of reform. The Institute
for Justice has worked with homeowners to raise awareness about this land grab, but the township isn’t listening. -When the government succumbs to this, we got nowhere to go but down. -The Gardens homeowners need your help. Please visit ij.org/mountholly
to learn what you can do.
-I know that I’m fighting for other people that might go through this and then they might have a better chance of saving their