Carla T. Main has a terrific article in the current issue of Policy Review on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London that local governments can seize people’s homes and businesses via eminent domain, and then turn the property over to private developers to build luxury malls and condos designed to generate higher tax revenues.
I’ve been raving bitterly against the Kelo ruling since it came down, especially in this Washington Post op-ed based on my own experiences living in a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., that had been the subject of an earlier Supreme Court ruling that kicked thousands of people out of their homes and businesses and destroyed a community, all in the name of “urban renewal.”
So I enjoyed Main’s tart summation of the Kelo case and what it means when the “urban revitalization” folks decide that you and your home or business are standing in the way of progress–as they did with Suzette Kelo and the cottage she and her husband had lovingly remodeled in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn.:
“In the Kelo case, the high court ruled against 15 homeowners from a working-class neighborhood in Connecticut, giving federal constitutional blessing to what has become standard practice in a number of states for many years (though expressly rejected in others). What it has come down to is this: You may rest easy by your hearth (or behind the cash register of your business establishment) so long as the municipality in which it sits has not gotten a notion in its collective head that your property would raise more tax revenue by being taken in condemnation and given to a private developer, who would then raze it to build what the local government deems necessary in the name of economic development.
“And lest you imagine that the project for which your home or business could be torn down would be something of great public purpose, such as a hospital, a school, or a missile silo, think again. It is far more likely, given the current pattern of economic development takings in this country, that your home or business would be replaced by a spate of condominiums, with an office park, a marina, and a big-box retail store thrown in – all of them built, operated for profit, and owned by private parties.
“When your business is taken, you will be compensated primarily for the value of the real estate on which it sits and the ‘fixtures’ inside; you may kiss goodbye the value of assets such as licenses, goodwill, location, customers, and most other intangibles. If you are a homeowner, you will get the value of your home at the time the condemnation made it virtually impossible to sell (and, if you’re lucky, moving expenses). You will not be given a dime to compensate you for the subjective value of your home – that is, your emotional attachment to it. Nor will you reap the windfall that will come with the revitalization of the neighborhood; you’ll be long gone by then. That bounty will be enjoyed by the folks who buy the condominiums to be built on the land you once, so to speak, owned.”
Main’s account of the most egregious eminent-domain crime–the nearly overnight razing of hundreds of homes, small businesses, and churches in the working-class neighborhood of Poletown in Detroit in 1980 to make way for a GM plant that never delivered on its promise to create 6,000 jobs–will bring tears to your eyes. The Poletown massacre, Main reminds us, was paid for by us American taxpayers in the form of HUD grants secured by Detroit’s then-Mayor Coleman Young, a pal of then-President Jimmy Carter.
The Kelo ruling has generated an anti-eminent domain revolt, with ideologues of both the left and right agreeing that both state legislatures and Congress should to something to curb the taking of private property in the name of economic development. But Main cautions us not to count on success:
“[O]ther forces have been at work since the Kelo decision. For one thing, there has been a groundswell of takings activity, as the many development projects that were put on ice while Kelo was pending before the high court have now been reactivated. In addition, it is not at all clear that the many bills introduced in state legislatures around the country will actually become law. The lobbies against such bills are many and highly organized: state and local governments, real estate developers, sports franchises in search of arenas, the hotel industry, big-box retailers, and many others with an interest in seeing urban and even rural development in convenient locations through the use of economic development takings.
“As for the homeowners in Fort Trumbull, their fate is still uncertain. The city, sore winners, slapped a bill for unpaid ‘rent’ on the Kelo homeowners, reasoning that since petitioners lost the case, they have effectively been living in city-owned property for several years now. Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, has called for a moratorium on takings until the legislature can consider a pending bill on the subject. The city of New London has become embittered, to say the least. The [New London Devlopment Corp., whose brainchild the new condo complex is], whose executives are not elected, ran through nearly all of its $73 million and went begging to the city for an additional $4 million in 2003. The city council agreed and then changed its mind after the NLDC demanded that the city immediately bond the money, which would have meant an even greater tax hike for its citizens. The council’s relationship with the NlDC deteriorated so badly that after two years of haggling, in March 2005, the council and NLDC entered into mediation workshops with a professional conflict resolution consultant.”
Let’s hope this is one conflict that is never resolved and that the city of New London forgets about Suzette Kelo’s home.
In the same issue of Policy Review, Christine Rosen has a fine, damning piece about The Way We Parent Now: overpraised, overprotected children whose moms and dads spend less time with them than ever.