March 18, 2021

“I know now that we have more than just a chance. I know that we’re going to keep our homes. It’s going to be a long battle, but we’re up for it.”

That’s what Charlestown, Indiana, resident Tina Barnes said through tears when IJ joined her and her neighbors to save their homes from a mayor determined to destroy them. She was right on every count. 

It was indeed a long battle. It began six years ago when the then-mayor of Charlestown devised a plan to bulldoze more than 300 World War II-era homes—including Tina’s—to make way for wealthier residents. There was just one problem: Many longtime residents of this working-class community, called Pleasant Ridge, didn’t want to move. And thanks to the strong post-Kelo eminent domain protections IJ secured in Indiana, the mayor couldn’t just take their land and give it to a private developer.

So he devised a nefarious solution: Instead of taking their homes directly through eminent domain, the city would fine them into submission. City inspectors began issuing a deluge of citations for picayune property code violations, including chipped paint and torn window screens. The fines began accruing immediately, quickly leaving property owners with thousands of dollars in fines and no way to pay. That’s when the city would step in and agree to forgive the fines—if owners would sell their homes to the mayor’s hand-picked developer for a meager $10,000. And the developer didn’t have to worry about the fines because the city had agreed not to enforce them once the property changed hands.

IJ’s activism team spent months on the ground with Pleasant Ridge homeowners, helping them organize, teaching them to fight for their rights, and keeping their spirits up. When we filed our lawsuit, we won a preliminary injunction that provided immediate protection for the neighborhood—and we kept winning.

Tina was also right in predicting that, with IJ’s help, she and her neighbors would keep their homes. On the eve of what was to be a five-day trial, the mayor was ousted from office, signaling the beginning of the end of his reign of greed and abuse. And finally, late last year, IJ secured a sweeping consent decree victory that ended the mayor’s redevelopment effort for good, protecting the homes of our clients and forbidding the city from ever again using fines to force people into giving up their property.

This long-fought battle is a testament to the courage and fortitude of IJ’s clients—and to our commitment to stand by their side no matter how long it takes to completely secure their rights. That commitment is made possible by the generous support of people like you. On behalf of the residents of Pleasant Ridge, we are deeply grateful.

Anthony Sanders is an IJ attorney and director of IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement.

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