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Dallas Puts the Brakes on Hard-Working Mechanic

Hinga Mbogo immigrated to Dallas from Kenya to live the American dream—but Dallas officials had other plans for him.

City officials are demanding that Hinga stop repairing cars at his popular shop, Hinga’s Automotive Company, because it doesn’t fit in with their plans to reimagine the up-and-coming neighborhood. The city barred Hinga from using his land for auto repair and told him to close his business after letting an “amortization” period pass. This period represents the amount of time the city thinks it will take for Hinga to recoup his initial investment in the property through sales revenue. In reality, Dallas officials are using this technique to avoid compensating Hinga for the time and money he invested in his business and property. So even though the city is wrenching away this hard-working mechanic’s livelihood, the city isn’t paying him a dime.

Hinga came from humble origins. He was raised on a farm in Nairobi, where he developed a love for mechanics in his youth by repairing broken-down farm vehicles. Hinga fell in love with Dallas while on a visit and settled there to follow his lifelong passion for auto mechanics. In 1985, he opened his shop on Ross Avenue, then the center of Dallas’s automotive industry. Through decades of sweat and perseverance, Hinga has turned his enterprise into a thriving fixture of Dallas.

Dallas has other intentions for Hinga’s land, however. City bureaucrats want to turn Ross Avenue into a trendy gateway to the city’s arts district, and Hinga’s auto shop doesn’t fit their vision for a hip, rebranded Dallas. Instead of respecting Hinga’s right to carry on his business, Dallas retroactively limited the allowed uses of his property to housing and numerous types of services—but not car repair shops.

Hinga Auto Repair

Hinga Auto Repair

Then the city deemed Hinga’s shop “nonconforming” and required him to use it for a “conforming” purpose by the end of the amortization period. But Hinga is a lifelong mechanic who has no desire to start a completely new business in order to comply with the city’s order. As a result, Dallas is effectively forcing Hinga to sell his land to a private developer. After receiving two extensions, Hinga will have to close his shop this month.

The city’s reclassification of Hinga’s land clearly violates his constitutional rights. First, Dallas is using a legal tactic to bypass the Texas Constitution, which prohibits the government from taking private land for private use through eminent domain. Since the city’s orders make it nearly impossible for Hinga to continue using his property, he will have to sell it to private developers. The city would have accomplished the same task had it simply seized his land through eminent domain and sold it to developers, which would make its actions a flagrant violation of the law.

Dallas is also violating the U.S. Constitution, which requires the government to give “just compensation” to property owners whose property it takes. The city is not compensating Hinga whatsoever, even though it is effectively taking his property through amortization.

Hinga’s shop poses no risk to public safety, health, or welfare; instead, it provides a vital service to the Dallas community.

Dallas officials aren’t only taking away Hinga’s business; they’re stealing the American dream from someone who worked incredibly hard to achieve it.

The government needs to stop violating property rights in order to benefit private developers. Have you or someone you know been affected by similar property rights abuses? Tell us here.

— Joseph Kessler

Joseph Kessler is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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