Save Our Blight

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The Institute for Justice has a new eminent domain case, representing homeowners in Long Branch, New Jersey, who are resisting a "blight" designation that would allow the city to take their property for redevelopment. The case illustrates one of the ways in which the Kelo v. New London decision didn't change things: Even before that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court had long permitted the use of eminent domain as a remedy for blight, which is in the eye of the beholder—in this case, city officials whose sight may be obscured by visions of gushing property tax revenue. Here are a couple of the horrible eyesores the city wants to bulldoze:

Long Branch 2.jpg
Long Branch 1.jpg

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  1. But those houses are all little and tacky and poor-people-looking! Of course such folks can’t be allowed to live in the fine city of Long Branch, New Jersey. Property rights are only for the rich.

  2. My God!! Did you see, they have a window A/C unit! Holy crap!! Only poor people have those! How tacky, that house is falling down and these people can’t afford the upkeep as evidenced by thier lack of modern central air! That garage isn’t even attatched! What squalor these people live in.

  3. Chin up, Jennifer. They wouldn’t dare touch a house with so many American flags on the fence.

  4. Oh my god, becky. Did you see, yeah, like, they have chain link fences and all. Yeah, and like, who paints bricks blue, besides, it is obvious they don’t have central air – I mean it is like they are aminals. We are really, like, doing em a favor and whatnot.

  5. sorry, kwix, I was posting while you were. seems we were on the same wavelength. scary for you. 🙂

  6. Now I shall read the farkin’ article.

  7. heh . By those standards 90% of Norfolk and Richmond Virginia are “blighted” and those are just the places that I have lived in.

  8. That big “not for sale” sign and the oddly placed American flags just might qualify as blight.

  9. Even if the properties in question were clearly blighted, you would still oppose condemning them. Why the charade?

    If you hope to have a voice in the discussion of how to distinguish actual blight from phoney blight, you’re going to have to admit that such a distinction exists.

    Blight is not, in fact, entirely in the eye of the beholder. It can be defined through objective means, and established through qualitative analysis. It would be a Very Good Thing for homeowners and renters if there was a more reliable standard to apply – then the courts would be in a better position to recognize and enjoin abuse.

    Unlike the silly, doomed crusade to reivent the definition of public use, developing more reliable criteria for establishing blight is a pro-property rights reform that could actually happen. It’s sad that your absolutist ideology precludes you from helping to make that reform happen.

    No one is every going accept the assertion that the govenrment should not be allowed to take weed-strewn brownfields in order to redevelop them and revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. As long as you insist that there is not difference between this and knocking down a few blocks of homes in a stable blue collar neighborhood, your crusade isn’t going anywhere.

  10. All that’s not upscale is blighted.

  11. All that’s not upscale is blighted.

  12. All that’s not upscale is blighted.

  13. Looks sort of like my neighborhood.

  14. As long as they’re justly compensated, they have no reason to complain.

  15. hey, ed’s post gave me an idea:

    Let’s get congress to pass the Flag Desecration Amendment, and then you PAINT YOUR HOUSE like a giant American flag. They can’t tear it down without breaking the law!

  16. Look, those people shop at Wall Mart and some of them may have voted Republican. In addition to that, they have a chain link fence and a window AC unit and that birdhouse mail box. Oh God save us from home and garden department at Sears. They were asking to have their homes bulldozed. For God’s sake burn the place down and lets build some tasteful condos, a independent bookstore, and some decent boutiques.

  17. “As long as they’re justly compensated, they have no reason to complain.”

    Define “justly compensated.”

    Crass materialists we libertarians may be, but we do know that not all value is measured in coin.

  18. And a baseball park too

  19. We have been duly chastised by Joe.
    I for one will hang my head in shame.
    My crusade is pointless. (Sob)

  20. joe

    Governments rarely have to use eminent domain to aquire truly blighted properties for redeveloment. The owners welcome either the subsidies or the chance to get out from under the burden that the property is.

    When people have a true attachment to their properties that goes beyond economic considerations and there can be no offer high enough to trigger a market transaction. There is no amount of compensation that the city can give them that can be used to “replace” what they own.

    This phony blight designation is nothing but a blatant theft. People living within their means used to be considered a virtue. Now they’re just trash.

  21. as a kid, my neighbor purchased a “weed-strewn brownfield” and turned it into a baseball diamond. unfortunately the government wasn’t there to save us from the horror of a privately-funded ballpark.

  22. Doesn’t ID sort of strike you like someone trying to pay for raping you? They’ve already taken what they want, now it’s just a matter of haggling over a fair price for your “property”.

  23. Define “justly compensated.”

    The sum that the homeowner is willing to accept. End of problem, right?

    Since those a/c units probably trump our server squirrels, I think we’re next.

    When they came for the ticky-tackers, I didn’t speak up…

  24. Hmm, I’m honestly curious and maybe joe can answer this…do cities first declare an area “blighted” then find developers to solve that problem…or is it the other way ’round?

  25. If you hope to have a voice in the discussion of how to distinguish actual blight from phoney blight, you’re going to have to admit that such a distinction exists.

    I think it goes something like: the arguements for condemnation of blight may or may not be justified but becosue of the tendancy for government to over step, such as in this case where a home clearly not blighted is being condemed for blight, that giving the state such power should be avoided.

    added Fucking server monkey bats.

  26. What’s sad/funny is that Long Branch is seeking to turn an old established neighborhood into another condo development at just the time that the real estate bubble is bursting, which has already sent the condo market into a tailspin nationwide. Boy, a sea of unsold, unoccupied condos would sure be an improvement over all that “blight,” eh?

  27. The thing is that you don’t need to use imminent domain to develop a brownfield. If the government would just ease environmental restrictions that make many of these old industrial sites for lack of a better work “unownable”, the would be developed by the private sector.

  28. Blight is not, in fact, entirely in the eye of the beholder. It can be defined through objective means, and established through qualitative analysis. It would be a Very Good Thing for homeowners and renters if there was a more reliable standard to apply – then the courts would be in a better position to recognize and enjoin abuse.

    I find little to argue with there, joe. However, Jacob was pretty specific in the post:

    Even before that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court had long permitted the use of eminent domain as a remedy for blight, which is in the eye of the beholder?in this case, city officials whose sight may be obscured by visions of gushing property tax revenue.

    This is exactly a case that cries out for the remedy you propose: a clear-cut definition of “blight.” According to TFA, the city wants to take and destroy these homes to build oceanfront condos.

    You know, the left and the right have managed to (somewhat) come together with the Porkbusters project, perhaps the urban planners and the die-hard property-rights activists could unite and say this is just wrong.

  29. “”Define “justly compensated.”

    The sum that the homeowner is willing to accept. End of problem, right?”””

    That would not be “justly” either because a homeowner could say he wants a billion dollars. It would not be just for a government to overpay anymore than it would be for them to underpay.

    “Justly” applies to both sides.

    I would define it as the value of the home as listed for tax purposes.

  30. joe,

    Your argument that we have no right to say anything because we don’t even believe in condemnation for blight is equivalent to a Democrat pointing out that the people being held in Gitmo aren’t even terrorists and having a Republican respond with: “Well, you wouldn’t want to hold people indefinitely without a trial even if they WERE terrorists, so you have no place in the argument!” In other words, pointing out how extreme abuses of government power can get when they’re allowed in the first place hardly negates the argument of people who think that even lesser abuses are still abuses.

  31. Those houses are cute as a button. Crappier houses than those (and those do not look like crappy houses to me) sell for half a million here in LA. “Blight” would not be the first word that pops into my head when looking at these houses…

  32. “Blight” would not be the first word that pops into my head when looking at these houses…

    Which just proves you have no potential as a municipal politician or one of their developer cronies.

  33. Which just proves you have no potential as a municipal politician or one of their developer cronies.

    developer cronies!!!

    go fuck yourself Isaac.

    Do you seriously think that this sort of shit is politically supported by developers?

    Who the fuck do you think pays for Reason Foundations research into this stuff?

  34. It would not be just for a government to overpay anymore than it would be for them to underpay.

    Umm…Vic, only voluntary transactions are just. If the homeowner has to be compensated a billion dollars to sell his/her home, then the just amount is a billion dollars. When one side says “we’ll give you X, now get the hell out” that’s not a voluntary transaction.

  35. TrickyVic,

    No, “just” does not aptly apply to both sides when one wants to take what “justly” is owned by the other.

    Okay look, I recognize that there are times the government is going to need land to perform its necessary functions and I can accept that some way has to be devised to take that land and compensate the landowner in the closest way to “just” possible. The point of my pointed joke above is “just compensation” can never be assumed to be adequate (as opposed to what joe has said in the past), and that’s demonstrated by these folks who would very much rather keep their homes than take the supposed market value, and that’s why takings should be considered a necessary evil at best and limited to situations where the procedure is genuinely necessary.

  36. I look forward to the inevitable time when a neighborhood of 100 working-class homes is declared “blighted” so the government can build 100 low-rent subsidized apartments for the poor, and then Joe can say the only reason we oppose it is because we don’t care that poor people can’t afford places to live.

    When I buy my first house, I plan to build it on a toxic waste dump. I figure the way to avoid having my property stolen via eminent domain is to have property nobody else wants in the first place. I may die early of cancer, but at least I won’t die homeless.

    And saying that it’s okay to steal someone’s home so long as you pay “just compensation” strikes me like saying it’s okay to rape a prostitute so long as you pay her what she normally charges anyway.

  37. a homeowner could say he wants a billion dollars. It would not be just for a government to overpay anymore than it would be for them to underpay.

    I was attempting to shift (restore?) the determination from “just” to “prudent,” on the understanding that the value of a commodity = whatever price the purchaser is willing to pay. If the price is too high, no deal.

    Maybe I missed the point.

    Tax-listed value seems arbitrary, and without the consent of the governed (to phrase a coin).

  38. Do you seriously think that this sort of shit is politically supported by developers?

    Who else would support it? Average people might drive around thinking that a certain street might be nicer if it had better homes on but I doubt they’re petitioning the zoning boards to declare them blighted. Wouldn’t you agree that such pressure more likely comes from the people who are going to profit from the ED transaction?

  39. Who else would support it? Average people might drive around thinking that a certain street might be nicer if it had better homes on but I doubt they’re petitioning the zoning boards to declare them blighted. Wouldn’t you agree that such pressure more likely comes from the people who are going to profit from the ED transaction?

    Profit for a small number at the expence of a growing market…your understanding of the land development buissness as well as your general understanding of economics plays right into the hands of land use planners.

    THESE GUYS are the benifactors…not me or other developers.

    http://www.planning.org/

  40. I may not agree with you, joe, that “blight” can be determined by a bureaucratic clerisy backed by state power, but even if I did, I would allow the potentially dispossessed to have some kind of hearing before the designation was made official. This is as much a due process claim as a takings issue.

    Members of said clerisy ought to get honest jobs, IMNSHO.

    Kevin

  41. A smart head posited:
    “As long as they’re justly compensated, they have no reason to complain.”
    Define “justly compensated.”

    Crass materialists we libertarians may be, but we do know that not all value is measured in coin.

    AAAAAfriggin men, Aresen. Its theft. Even if, at gun point, (and gun point it is: try refusing in a serious manner) you “sell”.

  42. If it is a voluntary transaction, the compensation is just.

    It doesn’t matter what the “seller’s” reason for refusing to sell is, if you force him/her to sell when he/she doesn’t want to, the whole GDP can’t compensate the “seller” justly.

    Joshua C: I hate to tell you, but there are developers who are only too willing to use the power of the state to get their project built.

  43. Joshua C: I hate to tell you, but there are developers who are only too willing to use the power of the state to get their project built.

    exeptions that prove the rule.

    No matter what group of people you point out you can find an evil bastard among them.

    Developers are not, as is implied, institutionaly currupt unlike say land planners who are.

  44. Which just proves you have no potential as a municipal politician or one of their developer cronies.

    While there are developers who gotten prime property on the cheap via government, there are also turtles born with two heads–I wouldn’t say that’s typical.

    …more typical would be municipalities crushing any given developer’s project with arbitrary conditions. …and I’d bet for every project a developer gets his hands on by eminent domain, there’s a thousand development projects killed in public hearings. …for arbitrary reasons.

  45. Which just proves you have no potential as a municipal politician or one of their developer cronies.

    This commenter may have intended this comment only for those with a shoe that fits. …but I know I’ve become sensitive to the charge. I know it’s a common misconception–it’s kinda like the Hollywood portrayal of business people. …You know how you can often tell the bad guy ’cause he’s wearin’ a business suit?

    The developer in mass media seems to have become something of a super-villan. Always plottin’ to kill the endangered baby fuzzies. Always lookin’ to tear down the playground. Always wanting to tear down the old folks home. …and then there’s that asshole Donald Trump.

  46. joe,

    I’ve read numerous ED “blight” cases; I’ve as yet to see an “objective standard” for blight in those cases.

  47. Developers are not, as is implied, institutionaly currupt unlike say land planners who are.

    I don’t believe planners are institutionally corrupt. …but I also don’t think the general public has any idea whatsoever of what it’s like to take a project through the planning process. …or any conception of what planning is really like–what it is that planners really do.

  48. Jeniffer’s comment is close but misses the mark:
    “And saying that it’s okay to steal someone’s home so long as you pay “just compensation” strikes me like saying it’s okay to rape a prostitute so long as you pay her what she normally charges anyway.”

    It’s more like saying it’s okay to rape a woman, as long as you pay her the going rate for a prostitute. She didn’t want to “make a sale” but you’re gettin’ some anyway, just gotta provide “just compensation”.

  49. Isaac,

    I agree with you about the class bias behind actions like this, and I’d like to see it stopped. This has been a big issue of mine for years. I was objecting to New London’s Ft. Trumbull plan since I studied it in grad school six years ago. I also agree that the attachment a homeowner or longterm occupant has to his home is an important factor, not just economic ownership. I’d like to see this value recognized in law. So that’s not where we part ways.

    But this, “Governments rarely have to use eminent domain to aquire truly blighted properties for redeveloment” is just untrue. It happens all the time.

    My Good Buddy Johnny Clark,

    The studies and planning are supposed to take place before, and absent any consideration of, interest from developers. Taking properties because of interest from developers is a corrupt practice that isn’t nearly as rare as it should be.

    joshua corning, if there were no important public benefits achieved by redeveloping blighted properties and revitalizing the areas around them, then I would support eliminating the power rather than just reforming it. But there are too many cases when the action is good and necessary, and I can’t support throwing the baby out the bathwater. Unless it’s a baby server squirrel.

    John, “The thing is that you don’t need to use imminent domain to develop a brownfield. If the government would just ease environmental restrictions that make many of these old industrial sites for lack of a better work “unownable”, the would be developed by the private sector.” That depends on the brownfield. If it is a nice sized industrial park lot near the highway, surrounded by other businesses, that’s one thing. But if we’re talking about vacant inner city industrial blocks surrounded by troubled neighborhoods, there really isn’t a lot of value to the private market. Properly used, blight taking actually change the economic value of nearby properties, and their attractiveness to buyers or investors, by turning the area from a bad place to do business to a good place to do business.

    jf, thanks for the kind words. Is this some kind of trick?

    Jennifer, I would deplore such an effort. A taking, or any planning/community development for that matter, is only justified if it produces benefits above and beyond what is done on the land itself. It either has to be a public occupation or benefit, like a park or drinking water protection area, or it has to be something that’s going to stimulate the health, prosperity, and development of the area. Just replaces a land use with a preferred land use doesn’t cut it.

    joshua, you should actually try talking to the public in a city where condemnation of blighted properties has been used successfully to promote redevelopment. These are expensive, difficult projects, and if you think that planners can push such things forward without significant support from the public and their representatives, you don’t understand how local government works very well.

    kevrob,

    I’m all for incorporating the human element, and not just economic ownership, into these decisions. I wish more libertarians recognized that it is a real value.

    Here’s my proposal – the government should have to pay twice the value for any occupied housing units. Once to the owner and once to the tenant (or 2X the properties value to an owner-occupant).

    Philly,

    I know. That’s my complaint. I think those objective standards need to be developed and written into law, to protect the public from both unnecessary takings and wasteful projects.

  50. BTW, John, if you are really interested, there were some good things done during the 1990s to address the regulatory/liability hurdles to acquiring and redeveloping brownfields, at the federal and state level. A great deal of the urban renaissance going on this country can be traced to these efforts.

  51. I agree with a lot of what you typed, joe, especially about the difficulty of pushing large projects like this through a local government.

    But that remedy scares me. If you think there is corruption now, imagine someone having the inside scoop that the City will eventually pay twice the assessed value for certain property.

    I think the only remedy is to define exactly what a ‘public purpose’ is. Fire Station, road, library, yes. Higher tax base, private anything, blight, no. I think it can be done; we’ve defined the hell out of everything else.

  52. absolutist ideology

    Someone should inform Reason. They have a traitor in their midst.

    The definition of blight she is referring to is here.

  53. I’m all for incorporating the human element, and not just economic ownership, into these decisions. I wish more libertarians recognized that it is a real value. – joe

    You seem to be responding to my objection about an “objective” standard of blight. But what about the IJ’s point that the owners weren’t given a chance to put their cases to local officials before the hammer came down? After all, ….nor shall any person….be deprived of….property, without due process of law; comes right before nor shall private property be taken for public use[note: use, not “purpose”] without just compensation.

    Here’s my proposal – the government should have to pay twice the value for any occupied housing units. Once to the owner and once to the tenant (or 2X the properties value to an owner-occupant). – joe

    Well, that’s something, if somewhat arbitrary. The tenants don’t have a constitutional right to live in someone else’s property, with the possible exception of a leaseholder, if the lease doesn’t contain some provision covering a sale during its term. Paying expenses for relocating, so that tenants are held harmless by the sale ought to be enough. Some states may have legislation that goes further, but I’d think that was an unconstitutional burden on the owner.

    I’d also want to make sure that sellers didn’t get slammed by the capital gains tax. I realize that the $250k/$500k(couple) exemption rules have been updated, and are no longer the “once-in-a-lifetime” deal that they used to be.

    Kevin

  54. jf, thanks for the kind words. Is this some kind of trick?

    Nope. I meant every word of it. Even though I disagree with a lot of your philosophies, I believe that you feel that what you believe is right, so when I do agree with you, I shouldn’t hesitate to show it.

  55. I remember when the Huntington Beach, California census put it at 15,000 and was all bean fields, tumbleweeds, sagebrush and rabbits.. . .Lots of rabbits. Ten years later the census was 185,000. The way it happened was through raising taxes until prople defaulted and developers bought it up.

    It went on that way all over california until “Proposition 187” came along. After that, as long as the property owners didn’t change the use they were making of the property they could not be “taxed out of their homes”. The result was that property owners got what the property was worth to the new owner. Kind of a “Will build to suit” arrangement.

    Then came the Supreme Court and “blight”. So now we are back to square one.

    Does anyone know the status of the ED claim that was being advertised to get hold of Justice Souter’s home after he was 6the swing vote on the Supreme Court? I think someone said it would make a good country club site or something like that.

  56. Out of curiosity joe, do you think cities should compensate landowners for setback areas if, for instance, they pushed a road through someone’s property via eminent domain or otherwise?

    …does it make any difference to you if it’s just a change in the city’s general plan?

  57. The definition of blight she is referring to is here.

    In re: (ii) an attractive nuisance to children because of … occupancy.

    And just whom does that entail? Chucky?

    Do we wanna go there?

  58. Kevin,

    In fact, I don’t believe the same 24 month/$250/$500 K rules apply to Emminent Domain sales. I believe there are some “reinvest in similar property and save the taxes” provisions, regardless of the sale amount.

    I’ve not boned up on it since last week, or maybe it was last year, and there’s a lot I have forgotten, but I think the above is in the ball park.

  59. “I would define it as the value of the home as listed for tax purposes”

    methinks u dont own a house, tricky. my house in a fairfield county, ct, middle class town (median family income~ $80k, which does not go far as u will see) bought for ~$200k 15 years ago has an assessed value of ~$175k. 4 houses smaller than mine w/ smaller lots and not as large etc have been selling in the $400k+ range. the median home price in fairfield county is over $550k. if the govt. took my house and paid me its tax value i couldn’t even afford a similarly sized condo. so fuck that

  60. Profit for a small number at the expence of a growing market…your understanding of the land development buissness as well as your general understanding of economics plays right into the hands of land use planners.

    THESE GUYS are the benifactors…not me or other developers.

    Saying that some politically connected developers are corrupt and are the driving force behind ED abuse is not the same as saying that all developers including joshua corning are corrupt. Strange, I’d have thought that someone with such a profound understanding of land development and economics would have a better grasp on simple logic. I don’t recall anyone excusing our fine public servants either.

    Maybe growing up in one of the more corrupt cities in America has distorted my views, but it’s naive to think that a politically connected developer wouldn’t use those connections to get the best deal possible. That’s what connected people do.

  61. “Blighted” area of Long Branch, NJ: Marine Terrace-Ocean Terrace-Seaview Avenue

  62. “in this case, city officials whose sight may be obscured by visions of gushing *property tax revenue.*”

    Jacob,
    You’ve mispelled “kickbacks” here.

  63. Joe, I’m glad this issue has come up because I’ve been wanting to ask you something: A few months ago you stated that the incidence of “Blight designation abuse” had come down to such a point where the fact that these cases are making the news is evidence that such cases are way down as to be news-worthy when they DO happen. What is your source for this claim?

    And is there any clamour anywhere for a strict, legal definition of blight? If there are truly definate parameters for such a definition, would you mind sharing them with us?

  64. joshua corning, if there were no important public benefits achieved by redeveloping blighted properties and revitalizing the areas around them, then I would support eliminating the power rather than just reforming it.

    Redevelopment for blighted areas may or may not work but you and i could probably agree on criteria of what blighted actually is…but government redevelopment has two problems first if the blighted area is caused by what regualerly is the causes found in urban america ie drug war, and bad schools then i feel the effort and my tax dollors would be better spent adressing these ills…(i wonder how much it would cost to stop the drug war?) second if these areas are blighted becosue of economic reasons like the mill closed down then again i think it is best to leave government out of it on the grounds that the blighted area probabaly should stay blighted and people should move to areas with more economic opportunity rather then local planners attempting to draw blood from a stone.

  65. The big problem with the ‘blight’ designation is that the proponents of ED for ‘blight’ are expecting some kind of non-arbitrary decision process out of people who are going to profit (in one way or another) from a declaration of ‘blight’.

    From a pure libertarian standpoint, I would oppose *all* types of eminent domain, on the basis that the property rights of the owner supercede *EVERY* other claim on the property, period.

    On a more practical basis, I’m willing to accept a reasonable premise that there are a limited collection of uses that serve the public good in such a way as to allow the necessity of some degree of imposed taking.

    However, from a purely ethical standpoint, the only takings that can be justified by any reasonable argument are those that are clearly ‘public’ in scope, i.e. highways and the like (at best). Takings for the purpose of increased tax revenue, for the purpose of someone’s wet dream of a particular style of frontage or population, and so on, are clearly unethical, regardless of what some court may provide.

    Eminent Domain lost any credibility it had when it morphed from categories that can clearly be identified as having public *USE* into nothing more than what is nothing more than an economic opportunity for the well connected (in the planning boards or the developers who support them).

  66. When I was about to graduate high school my folks pulled the trigger on finally getting a new house. We (my 8 siblings, Dad, Mom & myself) were bursting out of our 3-story, ~75-year-old woodframe beast. It had 4 bedrooms, with the third floor half-finished/half-attic bringing that total up to 5, with one bathroom, and an unattached garage/toolshed. We had recently demolished a once-habitable outbuilding, that in the early 20th-century was probably used as a summer kitchen and servants’ quarters. I expect that knocking it down made the property more saleable. With 9 kids living there, this ramshackle “playhouse” was quite useful for storing our fleet of bicycles, sleds and coasters, not to mention every imaginable piece of sports equipment these coach’s kids had ever accumulated. I’m sure that the mere existence of this anachronism would have bought our house a “blighted” designation, were it ever transported to modern-day Long Branch.

    The parentals had long owned a nice unheated bungalow, on a 28-foot wide lot, whose best feature was the 28-foot strip of beach fronting a local harbor, just down a very long bluff. We spent every summer there as kids, crammed into three bedrooms. My Dad cleverly bought Army surplus metal bunk beds that could be dismantled, transported by station wagon, and reassembled. There was also a large front porch, with mosquito-thwarting screens, where one could lay on a cot on a muggy night. It was pure kid heaven, bequeathed to my Dad and Mom as a wedding present back when a little spot like that went cheap. By the 1970s, the rocketing property taxes were taking a toll. Then my great-uncle passed away, leaving the folks a wooded lot in yet a third municipality. So, they razed the bungalow, sold the lot and the old manse, and moved us into a rental while they had a contractor build a year-round abode on the seaside site. Four years later, when they retired, the tax law had been changed, allowing exclusions on a principal residence for, I think, the first time. I don’t know if they plowed all the proceeds into their new Florida digs, or were able to sock some of it away, but either way the exclusions prevented the government from clawing back paper profits generated by the era’s inflation.

    When I look at the humble abodes of the beleaguered Long Branchers, I get nostalgic for the simple lodgings of my childhood summers. For many years we didn’t even bring a TV with us. Swimming, diving, rowing, clamming, playing pickup baseball with my brothers & cousins & our friends, 4th of July bonfires on the beach watching fireworks and toasting marshmallows, reading library books on the front porch while a summer rain beat down on the roof, with the Beatles and the Four Seasons singing on the table-top AM radio….

    [/Norman Rockwell reverie…]

    If some damned bureaucrat had told my Dad that none of that meant anything more than numbers on a check, once the village* had decided that more expensive housing ought to be built on valuable beachfront property in order to “economically develop” the community, he would have been lucky not to get popped in the snoot.

    Kevin

    *Not that that would ever have happened. The village in question was incorporated in the 1930s, with my late great-uncle a leader of the incorporation. The local power utility built a generating station on the harbor, cutting off the beach road to the next village. The group that started the village filed suit to keep the beach road open, but lost. Incorporation gave them some standing to sue, I believe, but not enough clout to stave off new construction during the Great Depression, and the road in question was the area of the beach below the high-tide mark. It didn’t exist at high tide! At least they kept any high voltage transmission lines from criss-crossing the hanmlet. 🙂 One of my cousins is the mayor there.

  67. “objective standards for blight” seems similar to “an objective view on the known fact that the state of Israel is the sole cause of the centuries long Jewish/Moslem problem”

  68. At the risk of agreeing with joe, I think he has a point this time (before he got into his pedantic “all of you have the same opinion and its wrong because it’s not mine” diatribe at the end.)

    There probably SHOULD be a minimum set of objective financial/economic standards that are required to prove “blight”. If you meet these standards in squalor, you aren’t necessarily blighted, but if you FAIL to meet these standands, then you are objectively not blighted. Yes, the people at the (Federal? State? County?) level would certainly set the standard to be less stringent than most of us here at Reason would agree with, BUT:
    It would provide more transparency than currently exists AND it would provide a objective standard for what cannot be blight.

    This would still be tremendous progress b/c no longer would blight simply be “whatever we say it is”.

  69. Elmo,

    That was prop 13, I believe. Prop 187 refused non-emergency services to illegals.

  70. There probably SHOULD be a minimum set of objective financial/economic standards that are required to prove “blight”.

    There can’t be, because what it boils down to is “such and so many poor people shan’t live in close proximity to one another.” It’s easier to uproot poor people when you couch the reason in vague, meaningless generalizations. It’s instructive to look where cries of “blight” got us in NYC. Numerous neighborhoods were literally destroyed, from the current site of the WTC to huge swaths of the Lower East Side to vast regions of Harlem to the site of Lincoln Center and more, all in the name of blight. In every case, what we got was either shitty high rises that became more run-down and dangerous than the neighborhoods they replaced, or soulless megaprojects that are cut off of the rest of the city. Is it too much to ask why can’t we look at ways to combat “blight” that might actually help concentrations of poor folk better themselves, rather than just shuffling them around?

  71. But this, “Governments rarely have to use eminent domain to aquire truly blighted properties for redeveloment” is just untrue. It happens all the time.

    It might happen all the time but it is not necessary in many cases. ED has become such a useful sledge hammer of a tool that it is used where a little gentle leverage might be more useful.

    That said, in many cases the ED is not contested or is only contested to arrive at higher compensation. In cases where the owner has said, in effect, “There is no amount of compensation that can persuade me to sell” one has to ask if the area is indeed “blighted” and that even if it is if that person is not entitled to continue his blighted existance.

    Some people will just never be safe from either corruption by politicians and their cronies wanting to get rich or self-appointed self-righteous busybodies wanting to “improve” them.

  72. kevrob, “You seem to be responding to my objection about an “objective” standard of blight.”

    Actually, I was responding to your point about the special attachment of people for their homes not being given enough weight. I really don’t see the tie-in to the need for an objective standard of blight.

    And I think you are on the right track with the Due Process language. One of my complaints about the political activist ideologues at the IJ is that they left the Due Process argument sitting on the table, when it might have helped them save the homes in Ft. Trumbell, simply because the put their ideology of judicial conservatism ahead of their clients’ interest. I would love to have seen the Supreme Court contend with a due process argument in the Kelo case, and wrote so at the time.

    “The tenants don’t have a constitutional right to live in someone else’s property” Sigh. And you were doing so well in acknowledging the human element, above and beyond the economic relationship, between a person and his home. You know, poor folks who can’t afford a mortgage can have that relationship with the place they call home, too.

  73. Ken Shultz,

    I believe the government should only compensate landowners for the land they take. The value of the part of your front yard that they condemned for the road is a taking; a decrease in value of the remaining property from having the road a little closer is not. It goes back to the Lucas case – a government action that doesn’t actually take property, just reduces its value, isn’t a taking unless it eliminates all, or almost all, of the use and economic value of the land.

  74. joshua and Ken Shultz

    Perhaps I should have been more precise. Of course not all developers are the cronies of local pols. Just the ones who, unlike Bee, see blight in an attractive neighborhood. Remember these pols would not get far in their schemes if it were not for a host of willing “private” partners.

    And any developer who does not have a keen sense of who has to be schmoozed on the various local land use boards, county commissions and city councils is destined to be an ex-developer or a small-time builder. Sometimes the schmoozing crosses the line to cronyism. Most of the time, I suspect, it does not.

  75. 76,

    I made that statement about the reduction in blight designation abuse when comparing the era of Urban Renewal/Slum Clearance to the present day. You need only pick up any history of the era, or Jane Jacobs book, or Robert Moses biography, to see just how far reaching the clearance of “slums and blight” was between 1950 and 1970. Every city in American was clamoring for its share of Urban Renewal funds to clear its slums and replace them with “rational city planning.” Today, we don’t. I don’t exactly have a longitudinal study I can point you to – I’ve just learned about planning and development in the two eras, and have drawn my own conclusions.

  76. 76,

    I wouldn’t say there is a “clamor for an objective definition of blight” – wonkish remedies like that don’t exactly generate clamors.

    But there is widespread concern among the general public about the overuse of takings, and well as a broad consensus among many specialized groups that the old urban areas often declared blighted should be protected, strengthened, and improved – not wiped out and replaced.

    As fare the objective definition of blight, I would start by looking at the physical state of the land and buildings, then turn to economic measures, like jobs per acre of land (or 1000 sqare feet of building space) in business areas, and investment or lack thereof in land and buildings.

  77. joshua,

    The major causes of blight (which is the physical manifestation of disinvestment) are changes in economic practices – downtowns emptied out because the stores moved to the malls, industrial areas abandoned because of sector migration or inadequate access, neighborhoods around them gone to seed because there are fewer jobs owing to the preceding causes. These are dislocations, but not fatal ones. Cities can bounce back and become success, self-sustaining economic engines. The problem is, even when there are other sectors that would be capable of bringing these cities back, the physical conditions left by the disinvestment – not the causes of the disinvestment, mind you, but things like crumbling buildings and vacancy – can serve to drive away capital which would otherwise be interested in rebuilding.

    It’s not a question of getting blood from a stone, but of restarting a stopped heart. The potential for natrual healing is there, if the conditions that are preventing the body/city from healing itself are addressed.

  78. R Dale,

    Stopping blight – which, by its very nature, creeps – from spreading into surrounding areas is every bit as much of a public benefit as stopping plague or typhus from doing the same.

    You wouldn’t look at a block that has 40 people with TB living there and declare that the public has not legitimate interest is addressing the problem.

  79. The problem is, … the physical conditions left by the disinvestment … can serve to drive away capital which would otherwise be interested in rebuilding.

    In addition to the many instances of “blight” where the cure was worse than the disease, I can easily think of a few instances of neighborhoods that were targeted for clearance but for whatever reason were spared. Like Soho in NYC and the North Side in Boston, now wonderful examples of neighborhoods that revitalized themselves over time. I’m sure there are many others. You talk about picking up a Jane Jacobs book to learn these things, and I agree. She was against slum clearance then, and I believe she would be against clearing “blight” today. I’d be curious if anyone could point to a specific current neighborhood in an American city today and say, “That’s blight that needs to be removed.”

  80. “Umm…Vic, only voluntary transactions are just. ”

    I was talking about “just compenstation” the amount, not if the action was “just” or not. The courts have ruled the action themselves are ok. So I agree with SCOTUS and say if you don’t like it, have your state change the law, which was the “good” result from the SCOTUS ruling. Some states reviewed their laws. That’s the way it should be.

    When questioning the “justness” of compenstation it must be viewed by both sides. So asking an unfair compensation by the landowner is not “just” anymore than the government asking to give less than its value. Neither would be “just”.

    Would you think it’s “just” to pay $1000 for a $100 DVD player or be given $1 for it?

    “Just compensation” would be the real value of the property. Again I’m not claiming that the action its self is “just”, I do acknowledge it is legal.

    “When one side says “we’ll give you X, now get the hell out” that’s not a voluntary transaction.”

    The first half of your sentence is what I am taking about. One side can not make up the value and it be “just” regardless if the transaction is voluntary or not.

    Hey, we never agreed to pay taxes and I certainly never asked that they be taken BEFORE I get my pay check. Taxes are not a voluntary transaction. That does not make them “unjust”.

  81. joe,

    I’m not necessarily saying that there aren’t some cases where the situation is severe enough (or has progressed far enough) that some kind of action can be meaningfully taken. Some of that goes to your idea of an objective definition of ‘blight’.

    The problem is that none (or almost none, at any rate) of those involved in these kind of takings actually *wants* an objective definition. It’s far too useful for these people to be able to tailor their definition of blight to suit whatever agenda they’re currently pursuing (or whatever source of largesse is fueling the action).

    That’s why I hew so firmly to the ‘public use’ distinction. I’m not even entirely convinced that a public use taking can very often be truly justified, but if it’s going to be there, I prefer the lesser evil.

    Taking for private development is just wrong, period. Private developers should just man up (and I’m sure most do) and do the work of acquiring what they want without using the hand of government to crony them along.

  82. Lagate Damar

    Re: Proposition 13 vs 187

    Thank you for the reminder. It’s been a while, and I’ve been gone most of that while.

    I remember when they opened Disneyland. Harbor Blvd was two lanes. There was no I-5 or Santa Ana Freeway. In fact, no freeways at all. Hwy 101 was three lanes, (the middle lane was called the impact area), and was “the” way to travel north and south. Disneyland was so far out in the country all the naysayers were predicting Disney had finally bitten off more than they could chew and would go broke, because, “Where in the world do they think they’ll ever find 2500 cars to fill up that parking lot?” and “It’s so far out in the country nobody’ll ever go out there”.

    It was said that the first area support for Disneyland was a motel, and that it was built where a dairy farm was taxed out of business.

    Anyway, thanks again for the heads up.

  83. joe:

    No matter how sentimental I get about a person’s attachment to “his” abode, it is only really his if he owns it. “Renters’ rights” don’t really exist, in a constitutional rights sense. Renters and owners make contracts, and those contracts need to be adhered to. I’m not going to give my blessing to nonsense such as rent control, so why would I back a plan that would compensate the renter and the landlord equally when a rental unit gets EDed?

    There is the argument that lessees and lessors have property rights in the leases they make, and it would normally be whoever broke a lease who would hold the other side harmless. In a forced sale, “just compensation” should include both the market price and the funds necessary to make the lessee/tenant whole, per the terms of the lease.

    Kevin

  84. From a novice, a question about the question Would you think it’s “just” to pay $1000 for a $100 DVD player or be given $1 for it?

    Excepting cases of exigency, such as the biblical Jacob’s extorting his starving brother Esau’s birthright for a mess of pottage, I am having trouble seeing how a commodity’s value is determined by anything other than its value to the purchaser/consumer.

    The DVD player worth $100 to you might be a bargain to me at $1,000 if time is of the essence in my being able to play a life-saving instructional video on it; if it held profound sentimental value to someone dear to me; or if I foresee its antiquity-value to my estate when my heirs remove it from the attic in 175 years.

    Conversely, $1 is $1 more than it’s worth to me as an ungainly paperweight right after I’ve been unfortunate enough to have lost sight and hearing in an accident.

    Adapting the principle of these extreme situations to common investing decisions gives us the daily operations of the free market, as ebay and other auction venues illustrate. Who’d a thunk that those apparently overpriced Xerox shares would have been worth a second look in 1955, or an Packard a generation before it’s taken off its blocks; or your old baseball cards or children’s books; who’d a suspected that downtown real estate in New York would lose value so quickly in September 2001?

    I fear I’m rehearsing the obvious to experts [* no sarcasm here *], so please correct my thinking that, depending on the buyer, the $1,000 could be a true bargain and the $1 exorbitant.

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