ARLINGTON, Va.—Last night, the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen considered a new Urban Renewal Area and blight designations but failed to pass a slum and blight designation. The map area considered was a significant change from the city’s previous designations. First, in April 2023, Ocean Springs designated a large Urban Renewal Area with more than 100 properties. This designation, which the city passed without notifying its citizens or giving them an opportunity to respond, prompted a federal lawsuit from property owners and the Institute for Justice (IJ).
Following the lawsuit and public opposition, the city rescinded its original Urban Renewal Area on November 21. It then proposed designating a smaller area that still included many homes and businesses. Last night, the city changed course again. Rather than designating large swaths of ordinary private property as predominately slum or blighted, the city looked to redevelop property owned by the city and several vacant private properties.
“It’s a great relief that the city has removed the cloud of blight from homes that mean so much to so many,” said Faye Payton, who is one of the owners of the home at 924 Cash Alley. “But no one should have to go through what happened to us. Our lawsuit always had two goals: protect our properties and change the law. Those are still our goals. We’ve protected our properties for now, but we want to protect them in the future and change the law.”
While the latest proposed map does not carry with it the threat of eminent domain abuse, the city’s actions revealed flaws in Mississippi’s laws that could stand uncorrected if the lawsuit is dismissed.
“Ocean Springs did the right thing and removed the blight designations from homes and businesses,” said IJ Litigation Director Dana Berliner. “But the city’s retreat does not fix the very real problems brought to light by its actions this year.
“Labeling property as blighted opens up the possibility of eminent domain and, in Mississippi, this process can happen without any notification or ability to contest the label. That blight label then lasts forever unless the municipality acts to undo it, as Ocean Springs did in this case.
“The lawsuit sought to protect Ocean Springs property owners not just from the present redevelopment effort, but from any future action to deprive them of their property rights. A future city council could subject property owners to the same secret blight process, as could any city in Mississippi.
“The government cannot deprive people of their property rights without fair notice and opportunity to be heard. Our clients will continue to fight for that principle.”
Elizabeth Feder-Hosey of Oceans Springs is local counsel for the case.