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Jewish World Review
Nov. 8, 2006
/ 17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5767
Legalized property theft
Do you live in a blighted home in a blighted neighborhood? You might without even knowing it.
But don't worry, your local politicians will be happy to tell you as soon as some land developer decides your neighborhood would be a great place to build swankier homes or shops.
Don't want to leave your home? Tough luck. Once the politicians, in their superior wisdom, decide that the development project will produce more tax revenue or jobs than you and your neighbors do, you'll have to go. Oh, they'll pay you something for your home, maybe less than it's worth but you'll have no right to say no and stay where you are.
That's called progress, and it's how things go in America today. The working class is under threat of expropriation for the benefit of the well off.
Shockingly, last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said that was just fine. (Eminent domain is permitted by the Constitution for "public" uses, such as roads or post offices. Using it for private development is a fairly new practice.) After the public backlash against that ruling, over 20 states restricted the use of eminent domain for private economic development. But the protection of homeowners is less than perfect. There's always an exception for "blighted" neighborhoods.
But blight is in the eye of the beholder, and the judgment of those beholders who wield power counts more than yours.
According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), the public-interest law firm, "the definition of 'blight' has become so broad and unprincipled that governments regularly target perfectly fine homes in ordinary neighborhoods for the wrecking ball. Nice homes with spectacular oceanfront views in vibrant neighborhoods can be condemned for reasons like 'diversity of ownership,' meaning that each home is owned by a separate family something that should be a point of pride for Americans rather than an excuse to take what rightfully belongs to a homeowner. If owning your own home means your house is blighted, whose house isn't blighted?" (IJ LINK: http://www.ij.org/private_property/longbranch/backgrounder.html)
IJ lawyers are currently defending property owners in Long Branch, N.J., whose homes are threatened by politicians and developers who want to build expensive condominiums in their place. It's odd that the politicians now call these homes "blighted" because only a few years ago, Mayor Adam Schneider praised the condition of the beachfront homes in the middle-class MTOTSA neighborhood. "If the whole area looked like [MTOTSA], we would not be doing [redevelopment]," said the mayor at the time.
Now, all of a sudden, the area needs to be leveled so developers Applied Companies and Matzel & Mumford can provided badly needed condos for the rich.
The homeowners tried to challenge the legality of the condemnations, but a court dismissed the complaint.
It's bad enough the politicians want to steal the homes of these working and retired people. But according to IJ, the city led the residents to believe a way might be found to save their homes even after they had promised the property to the developers. Says IJ: "[T]he MTOTSA homeowners took the mayor up on his offer, promising to cooperate with the city and help with neighborhood improvements. Rather than work with the homeowners, however, the city dismissed them ... " demanding elaborate plans for expensive infrastructure improvements.
"To save their homes, in other words, Long Branch expects 93-year-old Al Viviano and his few dozen neighbors to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and specialized urban redevelopment plans," says IJ. "[T]he problem with MTOTSA is not blight; it is that it has 93-year-old retirees, not rich and trendy professionals."
Mayor Schneider insists the residents knew the redevelopment plan already was in place and were told the chance of saving their homes was slight. And anyway, he said, he couldn't really see how the few homes in good repair could be integrated into the development plan.
Americans have long prided themselves on their homeownership. It has been seen as the key to the independence and freedom that made America what it is.
Now ownership is subject to arbitrary rule by arrogant politicians.
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