Susette Kelo Lost Her Rights, She Lost Her Property, But She Has Saved Her Home

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 30, 2006

Arlington, Va—Susette Kelo’s little pink cottage—the home that was the subject of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case and a national symbol of the fight against eminent domain abuse—will be spared from the wrecking ball. In a compromise put forward by Kelo and accepted today by the City of New London, the home will be saved and moved to another location, perhaps close to where it originally stood over a century ago, on Pequot Avenue in New London. The U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London gutted federal constitutional protections against eminent domain abuse but, in so doing, sparked a national rebellion against these practices.

“It is wonderful that Susette Kelo’s little pink house, which is a national symbol of the fight against eminent domain abuse, will remain standing,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which continues to represent the remaining two homeowners. “The home will continue to serve as a tribute to her brave struggle and as a powerful symbol of the fight to stop land-grabs by cities and their developer allies.”

“I am not happy about giving up my property, but I am very glad that my home, which means so much to me, will not be demolished and I will remain living in it,” said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in Kelo v. New London. “I proposed this as a compromise years ago and was turned down flat.”

Faced with eviction and the destruction of her beloved home, Kelo put forward an idea that she had originally proposed when first threatened with eminent domain abuse: preserving the home and moving it. When she first proposed this idea, it was rejected by the New London Development Corporation (NLDC). Now, the City, NLDC and the State of Connecticut have agreed to the move. While the precise location has not yet been determined, the house may be moved on or near Pequot Avenue, which is where the home originally stood before it was moved to Fort Trumbull over 100 years ago. There, the home, like Kelo’s property in Fort Trumbull, will be very close to the Long Island Sound.

The City and the remaining homeowners had been at an impasse. The City gave them a May 31, 2006, deadline for accepting a settlement or face eviction. Two of the homeowners, Susette Kelo and the Cristofaro family, refused. Conn. Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed moving the homes and giving real titles back the homeowners in Fort Trumbull, but the City refused to agree to that approach.

“I will be able to continue living in the home that means so much to me, with a real title to my property,” said Kelo. “Also, I will once again live in a neighborhood rather than a demolition zone.”

While Kelo’s agreement today signifies her deep attachment to her home, the agreement reached with the other remaining homeowner, the Cristofaros, reflects the family’s deep affiliation with the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, where they have lived for over 30 years. Although the Cristofaros will lose their current home, under the agreement, the City and the NLDC have agreed to support an application for more housing in Fort Trumbull, and the Cristofaro family has an exclusive right to purchase one of the homes at a fixed price. Moreover, a plaque will be installed in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to commemorate the loss of family matriarch Margherita Cristofaro, who passed away while the battle against eminent domain abuse occurred in New London.

“Neither the Kelo nor the Cristofaro family wanted to lose their homes, but they are each keeping some part of their homes,” added Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. “Susette Kelo will keep her house, albeit in another location. TheCristofaros want to stay on the Fort Trumbull peninsula. This agreement gives them the right to own a home in Fort Trumbull when one is built. The City also has agreed to move the trees that father Pasquale Cristofaro transplanted 30 years ago, when the previous Cristofaro home was taken by eminent domain.”

“The New London case was history-making,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. “It is only fitting that the house that launched a grassroots revolt should be preserved.”

The Kelo decision touched off a firestorm of controversy and a grassroots backlash, leading to numerous legislative changes and citizen initiatives. Since the June 23, 2005, decision, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation limiting the government’s eminent domain powers in instances of private use. Twenty-five governors have signed legislation into law. Arizona, Iowa and New Mexico are the only states whose governors vetoed eminent domain reform. So far, six states have constitutional amendments to limit eminent domain power on the ballot in November 2006.

While no firm details are yet set, Kelo’s home is expected to be moved sometime in the next year.