Legal Aid gets a Fair Deal for Gardener Displaced by Highway Project

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Joyce Hairston in her garden with friends.

Joyce Hairston in her garden with friends.

Joyce Hairston, an avid gardener, created The Union Community Garden in Slavic Village, fostering friendships and teaching neighbors to grow their own food. She had lived in her home for 16 years.

But this year came the bulldozers. They were clearing the way for Cleveland’s new Opportunity Corridor boulevard which will link I-490 and University Circle. Ms. Hairston’s home and garden had to go.

At first, the 60-year-old didn’t want to move. She learned she was legally entitled to relocation assistance – but without an attorney, she didn’t know what to do, and was worried she wouldn’t get the compensation she deserved. Legal Aid has advised a number of residents whose property is slated to be taken by eminent domain for the new road. “With the right settlement, it can be advantageous,” says Paul Binder, a Legal Aid volunteer on the project, “but the negotiations can be complicated.” The negotiations were complicated for Ms. Hairston. The Ohio Department of Transportation found Ms. Hairston what they said was a “comparable” new home. But it was far away, had no room for a garden, and the taxes were impossible.

“I’ve been gardening it since 1995 – corn, greens, tomatoes, berries and some of those take time to cultivate. Virgin ground doesn’t grow good vegetables, it has to take off,” said Ms. Hairston. The state acted as if her demonstration garden was just a few flowerpots. Mr. Binder was able to show the demonstration garden was part of the High Tunnel Initiative, one of many urban gardens sponsored by the USDA and Rep. Marcia Fudge to encourage locally grown produce.

Legal Aid stepped in and convinced ODOT that a “comparable home” included a “comparable” garden. The property taxes on the new home ODOT found were closer to what she had been paying in Cleveland, and in a better location. Plus – it had room for a garden.

Thanks to her Legal Aid lawyer, she was able to appeal the first offer and she had enough money to buy a new home with a garden – plus moving expenses.

Ms. Hairston is thrilled, “Mr. Binder just grabbed it like a bulldog. In his calm way he was vicious.”

 

Click here to view the full Poetic Justice Issue where this story appeared.

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