This Old House...Was Her Home

How one woman fought for her home and became an activist role model for her neighborhood.
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After a difficult divorce in the summer of 1997, Susette Kelo was intent on just one thing: realizing her lifelong goal to live near the ocean. But within months of moving into her dream home -- a pink Victorian fixer-upper on the New London, Connecticut, waterfront -- Kelo was thrust into the unlikely role of activist. The Pfizer pharmaceutical company announced plans to build a research facility next to her neighborhood, and the city of New London, desperate to bolster its faltering economy, decided to demolish homes there to make way for the development. Appalled and angry, Kelo refused to sell. In response, the city invoked the principle of eminent domain, which gives government the power to take private property. Kelo and her six remaining neighbors fought back -- all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Kelo v. City of New London decision finally came down in 2005, with the court ruling 5 to 4 against Kelo (by then something of a national folk heroine). Despite the loss, Kelo considers herself victorious: "Our case brought the issue of eminent domain to people's attention," she says. "Because of us, others all over the country have hung on to their homes." Indeed, in the wake of Kelo's case, 43 states have passed reforms restricting the use of eminent domain for private gain. Meanwhile, the land seized by the city remains empty; Kelo's house was moved to another part of town and has landmark status (she no longer lives in it). To learn more, read Jeff Benedict's new book, Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.


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