Ninety-one-year-old Angie Hampilos immigrated to the United States from Greece and had lived in her waterfront bungalow for more than 50 years before the city of Asbury Park, N.J., decided her neighborhood was no longer good enough. Threatened with eminent domain, property owners in the 29 blocks around Hampilos gave up their homes and businesses because the city wanted to build luxury condos.
Angie’s story is the subject of the award-winning documentary, Greetings from Asbury Park, which will begin airing on PBS stations in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia beginning this Independence Day, July 4.
The film—written, directed and produced by Christina Eliopoulos, an Asbury Park native and grand niece of Hampilos—reveals the injustice and heartache caused by unbridled eminent domain abuse in New Jersey. After her neighborhood was declared “in need of redevelopment,” Hampilos lived for nearly two decades under the threat of condemnation, unable to obtain loans to finance repairs or permits from the city to improve her property, and unable to sell because buyers have no interest in property that could be condemned.
“Although New Jersey’s courts have found that there are some limits to cities’ power of eminent domain for private development, without legislative reform, New Jersey will remain one of the country’s worst abusers of eminent domain,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, who was also interviewed for the documentary.
New Jersey is one of only seven states that have yet to pass any legislation reforming their eminent domain laws since the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. Along with New Jersey, New York also remains without any eminent domain reform, and although the state of Pennsylvania has prohibited eminent domain for private economic development, legislators crafted an exception for large cities like Philadelphia.
Asbury Park’s waterfront neighborhood was home to many elderly residents and business owners, many of whom came from immigrant families who came to the United States to pursue the American Dream. Targeting ordinary, hard-working Americans was what Justices O’Connor and Thomas warned would result from the High Court’s Kelo decision, which found that the Fifth Amendment does not prohibit the taking of private property for economic development.
According to the 2007 report issued by the Institute for Justice, Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse , an analysis of census data from 194 communities found that eminent domain abuse disproportionally hurts the poor, minority and other historically disenfranchised and comparably powerless communities.
“When it comes to redevelopment, people—especially government officials—think only about the increased tax revenue that may come from a redevelopment project, forgetting entirely that people’s lives are at stake,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalition for the Institute for Justice. “Greetings from Asbury Park tells the story of eminent domain abuse in a brilliant and touching way, reminding everyone just how fundamental property rights are to the lives of all Americans.”
Greetings from Asbury Park won the top prize for Best Documentary at last year’s New Jersey International Film Festival. It will air on WHYY in Philadelphia on July 4, NJN2 in New Jersey on July 6—July 13, and on WLIW in New York beginning July 11.
Visit www.greetingsfromasburyparkmovie.com for times and channels.