Coming to a town near you – less affordable housing, more Home Depots.

In a move closely watched by suburban townships and housing advocates across the country, the Supreme Court came down against homeowners today in Susette Kelo v. City of New London in a 5-4 vote. Susette Kelo lives in a middle-class home in the city of New London. The city decided to claim eminent domain to seize her house and neighborhood to hand over to the New London Development Corporation, a private company who intents to use the property for private developments – specifically a development involving hotels and a marina.

At issue is determining whether or not there is any check to local governments claiming eminent domain as long as they are willing to compensate for whatever the property is worth. Let's clarify what this is not: (a) The intended use is not public (schools, roads, parks), or even for a third party developing a public use ("Taco Bell Presents: The Gordita Public Park"). It's entirely for the economic benefit of a third-party. This is a hurdle to jump – as the 5th amendment is pretty specific in saying – "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." (b) The land in question is not blighted – a word that has a legal and regulatory meaning. Blighted property can be grabbed for whatever reasons with compensation – as the Supreme Court has determined in 1953. The area is question are full of safe, comfortable, older-middle class homes.

Well The Supreme Court found in favor of the city and economic developers today.

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7 Responses to “Coming to a town near you – less affordable housing, more Home Depots.”

  1. james Says:

    I've been waiting for this decision. We debated it in my business law class last semester. I must say I'm disgusted by the decision. The power of eminent domain is clearly being abused, but given the courts ruling the only was to prevent this from happening in the future is a more specific ammendment limiting this gov't power.

  2. mike Says:

    And the sad part is voters aren't biting for _that_ kind of amendment. "Stop gay people!" "Don't burn the American flag!" "save the unborn babies!" you can get votes on, and juices pumping, to write-up the constitution.

    "prevent the government from taking your property for 3rd party fianacial gain!" – you might as well show a dog card tricks.

    Perhaps we need a case where a township takes middle-class housing for a gay nightclub and chicana studies house. add in a planned parenthood to boot. you'd see the activists then!

  3. Ed Says:

    I don't think this one is long for the world, folks. While I find it deeply disturbing, it seems to be so far out of touch with reality that I believe the first serious challenge will end up reversing this decision.

    Secondly, the development corporation may be "private" but it's still an extension of the local government, so this is undoubtedly still a "public use" issue to the proponents. I mean, the US Postal Service and the FEC are technically "private" organizations – does anyone really consider their actions non-governmental? Setting up an economic development corporation is nothing but a shell game played by local governments. The courts aren't turning this property over to Wal-Mart – they're turning it over to a front group for the town, which the courts have chosen to interpret as being no different than turning it over to the town.

    Eminent domain has been wildly abused to purge affordable housing and "undesirables" out of cities for decades – often involving little more than condemning old apartments and selling the land to condo developers. I find it amusing that there's a lot of feather-ruffling today now that it's going to affect Schaumburg. Do you think all those condos on South Michigan Ave. where Daley lives are public facilities?

  4. mike Says:

    True – now it's middle-class homes that can get grabbed and flipped over for developments as opposed to "blighted" poor homes (follow the reason link to an article about how the government has become increasingly clever in finding things as being 'blighted' – including the idea that something _could_ become 'blighted' in the future). But blighted at least has a regulatory ring to it – you could go to a court and say "hey, my property isn't blighted!" and in theory get your say.

    This is an end run around that. Now there is no recourse as long as a guy can get a study to say tax dollars will go up.

    the development corporation (in this case) is a non-for-profit front for the township – but (and it's part of their brief) they are taking the land and leasing it out for $1/year for 99 years to a private development company. And their argument for why they can take it is that the third-party, who will be Wal-mart in the future, will pay more in taxes. I understand how the courts will try and plead ingorance, but it's embedded in the argument.

  5. Ambrosini Says:

    This is interesting because in the town just north of me there was a church that got torn down recently. Can anyone put a guess to what is going in on this piece of property that is at the corner of a busy intersection? That's right, another strip mall to fit in the other few in the same block.

  6. Ed Says:

    I don't know why this isn't bothering me more. I guess it should, but it's not like they're condemning historically significant landmarks. They're seizing aluminum-sided tract housing to replace it with strip malls. The owners are being paid well over market value to move a couple blocks away. Something about this just isn't building a fury in me.

    I'm far more worked up about the National Park ranger I spoke to last week in Virginia who said that the new Bush-appointed chair told them to sell one of the oldest surviving private homes in America to turn it into an ice cream shop and increase self-sustaining revenue.

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