IJ’s New Studies Document Eminent Domain Victims And Alternatives to Force

By John E. Kramer

Who is victimized by eminent domain for private gain?  And how can these government-forced takings be avoided even as private development moves forward?  These are the questions answered by three recent studies published by the Institute for Justice.

Victimizing the Vulnerable:  The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse is a first-of-its-kind national study that systematically examined U.S. Census data to determine the profile of people subject to eminent domain abuse in 184 projects across the country.  As The Wall Street Journal editorialized the week the study was released, “The report shows that eminent domain disproportionately affects poor, ethnic minorities with lower levels of education.  Minorities comprised 58% of the population in areas targeted by eminent domain, compared to 45% in the surrounding communities.  The median income of residents targeted by eminent domain is less than $19,000 per year, compared to more than $23,000 elsewhere.  And 25% live at or below the poverty line, versus only 16% elsewhere.”

These three reports are available on the IJ website here: www.ij.org/reports

“Eminent domain abuse is essentially Robin Hood in reverse:  taking from the poor to give to wealthy, politically connected developers,” said Dr. Dick M. Carpenter II, director of strategic research at the Institute for Justice, who produced the study with IJ Research Assistant John K. Ross.

The study vindicates the warning offered by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote in her dissent in the infamous Kelo case that eminent domain would be used “to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.”

In a report produced earlier this year by the Institute for Justice titled, Eminent Domain & African Americans:  What is the Price of the Commons? Dr. Mindy Fullilove, a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University, examined the effects of eminent domain abuse on the African American community.  Focusing specifically on the Federal Housing Act (FHA) of 1949, Dr. Fullilove found that “[b]etween 1949 and 1973 … 2,532 projects were carried out in 992 cities that displaced one million people, two-thirds of them African American,” making blacks “five times more likely to be displaced than they should have been given their numbers in the population.”  Eminent Domain & African Americans, coupled with Victimizing the Vulnerable, documents that both historically and currently eminent domain is being used by the powerful to further disenfranchise those who are politically and economically marginalized.

In his report, Development Without Eminent Domain:  Foundation of Freedom Inspires Urban Growth, published by the Institute for Justice, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle demonstrates that cities can develop without resorting to eminent domain.  Pringle warns that cities turn too quickly to eminent domain rather than the marketplace.  Pringle’s report explains how Anaheim’s leaders brought economic vibrancy to their city without any takings of private property.  It also explores the successes and failures of other cities around the nation in economic redevelopment.

“Anaheim’s success, created through free market negotiation and wise public policy rather than the force of eminent domain, is a lesson for other cities,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice.  “Anaheim shows that respect for the rights of property owners and economic development can go hand in hand with better results for cities, property owners and private developers.”

John E. Kramer is IJ’s vice president for communications.

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