The clash between the township of Mount Holly and the working-class, mostly minority residents of this neighborhood of rowhouses has dragged on for 10 years. The township wants to give the land to a private developer. The residents want to remain in the homes they've owned for decades.
Beginning in 2008, Mount Holly engaged in increasingly harsh tactics to encourage the holdout residents to leave. The township ripped up hunks of sidewalks, then left them unrepaired; it issued a round of warnings for trifling code violations; it cut off electricity to neighborhood street lights at night; it shut down a playground and a community center; and it reduced public services like policing, trash collection, transportation and school busing. But the demolitions hit residents hardest. The township has been tearing down rowhomes that still have occupants living in the homes connected to them. When bulldozers rip away individual houses, adjacent homes suffer collateral damage. There are holes in walls of the remaining homes, as well as a loss of insulation.
"Demolition would happen especially before holidays," Cruz says. "They'd do their work before Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Christmas Eve, and then leave the bulldozers out and about over the holidays, just to intimidate you."