Washington, D.C.—A coalition of the nation’s leading legal advocates against the abuse of eminent domain and individual property owners whose rights are being violated released a report today that spotlights the 10 most egregious instances of government condemnations for private benefit. “Government Theft: The Top 10 Abuses of Eminent Domain, 1998-2002,” demonstrates both the human cost of the practice and the nationwide scope of the issue.
The worst abuses were found in 10 states: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Texas. In each instance, the government, often acting in concert with a private development corporation or other private interests, condemned homes or small businesses so they could be transferred to another party for its purely private benefit.
Despite explicit limitations in the U.S. Constitution and nearly every state constitution that allow condemnations only for public use—such as for public buildings—for the past 50 years, unrestrained local and state governments across the nation have taken property for private businesses in the name of “economic development.” Homes and businesses have been bulldozed, replaced by newer businesses and more upscale homes owned not by the public, but by private, politically powerful individuals and corporations.
“Sadly, these ten cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and author of the report. “More than 100 cases have come to our attention, and we hear about new private condemnations every week, but many more either go unreported or are settled by property owners who understandably cave in to the enormous threat of condemnation.”
In 1998, the head of the Council for Urban Economic Development estimated that cities undertake roughly 80 projects per year for private businesses that involve condemnations, and each project could involve more than one condemnation.
Among the examples cited in the report: more than 1,700 buildings in Riviera Beach, Fla., are threatened with condemnation, potentially displacing more than 5,000 residents for private commercial and industrial development. In New London, Conn., seven homeowners in the historic Fort Trumbull neighborhood have been fighting for three years to save their land from condemnation. In that case, the City of New London actually delegated its awesome power of eminent domain to a private organization, the New London Development Corporation, which is carrying out the condemnations to make way for private office space and other unknown projects to enhance the neighboring plant of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
“Our cities and states have become like real estate speculators, securing land owned by their own citizens on behalf of politically connected private interests,” added Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which has waged successful campaigns against the abuse of eminent domain in Atlantic City, N.J., Baltimore, Md., and Pittsburgh, Pa. and is currently litigating cases in Canton, Miss., New London, Conn., and New York, N.Y. “The abuse of eminent domain is corporate welfare at its worst, and it’s happening all across the nation.”
The Institute for Justice today also announced the formation of the Castle Coalition, a nationwide network of citizen activists determined to stop the abuse of eminent domain in their communities. The Castle Coalition will act as a resource for property owners threatened by eminent domain. It will offer information, training and support to help them battle condemnation abuses. To launch the coalition, the Institute for Justice this weekend brought together nearly three dozen property owners and activists from around the nation whose homes and businesses are threatened by eminent domain abuse to train them in the art of community activism.
The coalition’s new website, www.CastleCoalition.org, provides a way for activists and property owners to connect with each other and share ideas and advice. The website features an “Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Kit,” which offers tools and information to fight eminent domain, including timelines of the typical condemnation process, links to friendly organizations that can help battle condemnation, and outreach advice.
“If citizens band together, they can stop the bulldozers,” said Bullock. “Much of the abuse happens at the local level, so community organizations can be particularly effective in applying pressure to local governments.”
“Witnessing the pain of homeowners and small-business owners faced with losing what’s rightfully theirs is gut-wrenching,” added Stephanie Parker-Weaver, executive secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Jackson, Mississippi, who built a coalition on behalf of property owners in Mississippi whose property is threatened by the state in order to hand it over to Nissan for a new truck plant. “The formation of the Castle Coalition is a giant leap forward in making their voices heard.”
The Institute is the nation’s leading legal advocate against eminent domain abuse. The Institute litigates eminent domain cases throughout the country and was the organization that won a case on behalf of a widow whose house was sought by Donald Trump and a New Jersey government agency. In 2000, the Institute also spearheaded a successful campaign against eminent domain abuse in downtown Pittsburgh, where the mayor proposed taking more than 60 buildings and 120 privately owned businesses to give the property to a developer to build an urban shopping mall. In November 2000, the mayor abandoned his plans and pledged not to use eminent domain in future efforts to develop the area. In October 2000, the Institute filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York challenging New York’s unconstitutional eminent domain procedures and in December 2000, the Institute launched a legal challenge to the use of eminent domain in New London, Conn., where the government and a private corporation want to take homes and businesses to build privately owned office buildings and other unspecified development projects.
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