Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch on Eminent Domain Abuse

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In the New York Post, Editor in Chief Matt Welch reviews a new book explaining why eminent domain is just the gateway into a world where local governments respect no man's property.

Read all about it here.

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  1. It is always the poor neighborhoods that get hammered. Here in Washington, they “redeveloped” the downtown when they built the MCI Center. There were some upsides to this. The Chinatown area of Washington is safer and less seedy than it used to be. The flip side of that is that it wasn’t that bad to begin with. It certainly wasn’t Anacostia. There were also a lot of working class people who lived down there. It was a neighborhood in Washington that was reasonably safe, if a bit seedy, but also affordable. Now thanks to the redevelopment, it costs a fortune to live down there and all of the working poor who used to live there have been shuffled off somewhere else. I am all for economic development. I am also all for doing things like shutting down the street walkers and having effective policing to improve the quality of life. But there is something wrong with the government using tax dollars to take over a neighborhood and redevelop it as a new playground for the well off. That is really what happened in Chinatown. They didn’t used to call Urban Renewal “Negro Removal” for nothing.

  2. That has to be the least informative eminent domain piece I’ve read in the past three years. And The Post? For shame Matt, for shame.

  3. That has to be the least informative eminent domain piece I’ve read in the past three years.

    To be fair, there’s only so much that can be said in the context of a book review.

  4. Yeah Warren I think you are being a bit tough on Welch here. I am hardly a Welch defender but the guy was writing a book review not an in depth study of imminent domain.

  5. imminent domain

    I like it! “All your property belongs to the collective! Just wait and see.”

  6. It’s all your fault, Warren.

  7. Warren — I’m a huge fan of the Post! And yeah, it’s a 500-word book review for a general newspaper audience, ya know? There are some in-depthier pieces at this link.

  8. Nobody actually owns property. You rent it from the government (property tax) and if you don’t pay your tax, you lose it and they rent it to someone else. It’s a simple logical extension for them to start saying “this new renter will pay more than the old one, so let’s evict”.

  9. Could it not be that the book’s author was opposed to the appeals courts’ taking the case at all?

  10. The Kelo case, involving a nice old lady who just wanted to protect her dream cottage against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer

    No, it didn’t.

    The Kelo case had nothing to do with Pfizer. Too good to check?

  11. The Kelo case had nothing to do with Pfizer. Too good to check?

    Well, joe, yes, Pfizer was not directly involved in the case, as Matt indicated in the quote. It’s disingenuous to suggest that Pfizer had nothing to do with Kelo, though. It was closely enough involved that it’s reasonable that someone might misremember the case as actually involving Kelo.

    None of which invalidates any points Matt made in the article.

  12. I’m with Warren – the Post is a joke. Way too many front page stories about Michael Jackson , and it was founded by alexander hamilton. Meh.

  13. The case didn’t concern Pfizer, but the little old lady, who may have been indirectly protecting her cottage against Pfizer. My understanding is that their involvement in the initial development is still a matter of debate.

    I think that the phrasing in Matt Welch’s piece is pretty clear that the case involves the lady, not the lady’s fight with Pfizer.

  14. I would love to see someone turn eminent domain back against the people who champion it. For example, places like San Francisco and Aspen have terrible shortages of affordable housing. They also are very short of space. So, why not have the government buy rich people’s Victorians and ski lodges and condemn them and turn them into affordable housing? Just once take a rich neighborhood and turn it into a middle class one in an area sorely in need of middle class neighborhoods. San Francisco and Aspen are in desperate need of housing for their middle income workers. You can’t have a city with out fireman, police officers, garbage men, janitors, teachers and the like and those people need some place to live. On top of that, if they can’t live near their work, they will be commuting and burning gas and carbon and all of that. Further, you can’t build new places to live without destroying green space. So, the answer clearly is to condemn the homes of the rich and make them into affordable housing.

    Now of course I would object to that because I believe in property rights for everyone and don’t agree with imminent domain. But, I would like to hear some proponent of imminent domain him and haw around when you proposed that and somehow explain how it is okay to take average people’s homes and price them out of the market so we can have a baseball stadium but not okay to take rich people’s homes when we need to provide housing for essential workers. Imminent domain really is about stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

  15. Only a jerk* who hates the poor and struggling would support eminent domain in the name of “economic developement”.

    * I could use other terms that are, while more accurate and colorful, significantly less family friendly.

    Kelo, Poletown, NY Times, the list is so friggin’ long it shames me as an American citizen.

    Warren, we’ve got to convert the unwashed readers of the NY Post as well asd the cosmotarians whose tastes run more to the NY Times. Post readers vote too.

  16. “I could use other terms that are, while more accurate and colorful, significantly less family friendly.

    Kelo, Poletown, NY Times, the list is so friggin’ long it shames me as an American citizen.”

    Those people love the poor J sub D. They just don’t want them living in the nice areas of town. I mean really, who are poor people to live in a desirable space? Wouldn’t it be better to bulldoze their homes and put in something nice? Aren’t the poor better off living off in places where no one else wants to live? Really now.

  17. John,

    Purposely making your affordable housing project economically inefficient by driving up your acquisition costs doesn’t make any sense.

    grylliade,

    Pfizer had nothing to do with Kelo, and Mrs. Kelo’s fight had nothing to do with Pfizer. The land wasn’t being taken for Pfizer, or as part of the plan that involved Pfizer. Rather, the city came up with another plan, for a different area, after the plan to build a Pfizer complet in a different area had been drawn up.

    There is a lot of confusion surrounding this, largely because “they took an old lady’s house to give it to a big evil corporation” is too good a narrative.

  18. Poletown was turned into “a nice area of town?”

    Really?

    This topic always generates a great deal more heat than light.

  19. “John,

    Purposely making your affordable housing project economically inefficient by driving up your acquisition costs doesn’t make any sense.”

    But Joe in a place like Aspen or San Fran, there is no where to put affordable housing. San Fran is a penisula. There is only so much land. Aspen is in the middle of this incredible green space. You can’t go out and chop down the forrest to build new homes. The footprint needs to remain the same. The answer is to buy the existing homes and tear them down and build more affordable and condensed housing on the footprint that is already there.

  20. “This topic always generates a great deal more heat than light.”

    Joe, I remember the Chinatown neighborhood here in DC. It wasn’t that bad and it was home to a lot of hard working people who now thanks to imminent domain can’t afford to live in the District anymore. That sucks. I would also point you to this book on the old Chavez Revine neighborhood that was destroyed to build Dodger Stadium. You of all people should be sympathetic to tearing down middle class and poor neighborhoods to make playgrounds for the rich.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0811840573/reasonmagazinea-20/

  21. Poletown was turned into “a nice area of town?”

    Really?

    No, Poletown was given* to General Motors. I guess GM couldn’t find anywhere else to put an assembly plant. After all, vacant land in the Motor City is so fucking rare, it would require Sherlock Holmes to find any.

    *Sold to GM at a price they couldn’t induce the owners to sell at.

    This topic always generates a great deal more heat than light.

  22. John,

    But Joe in a place like Aspen or San Fran, there is no where to put affordable housing.

    You’d be surprised. Foremer industrial sites, dead malls…but to the extent that it requires tearing something smaller down to build something else, it still doesn’t make any sense to target expensive properties. Unless you’re just trying to be an asshole, and don’t actually care about affordable housing being constructed.

    Which is not to say that you can’t use affordable housing projects to promote economic desegregation – you just don’t do it by purposely buying expensive properties.

    Also, it’s “eminent domain.” ”
    Imminent Domain” sounds like a death metal band, or a James Dobson book.

    You of all people should be sympathetic to tearing down middle class and poor neighborhoods to make playgrounds for the rich. Actually, I was the firs person ever to write a comment denouncing the New London plan on Hit & Run, back in 2001 or 2002. That’s because I had heard about the plan a few years before that, when I was in grad school, and was denouncing it then, on exactly the grounds you mention.

    A stable, desireable, established, affordable neighborhood is a rare treasure. Cities that want to area clearance in places like that are nuts.

  23. John,

    The point is that there is a fiscal viability component of eminent domain that you’re not accounting for. The state is not going to take something that they can’t afford. If the goal of the taking is to enhance economic value of the community, a development project needs to be a net improvement to the development of the land. Otherwise, if the goal is a true “public use” goal, then the state will be looking to acquire the cheapest land possible or otherwise they’ll come under fire by taxpayers.

  24. After all, vacant land in the Motor City is so fucking rare, it would require Sherlock Holmes to find any.

    You do know the plan was from a few decades ago, right? When there was much less vacancy?

    This topic always generates a great deal more heat than light.

    Yes, it does. You should stop swearing, and get your facts together.

  25. MP,

    I was being a bit flippent. If it is the case that immenent domain will only be used to buy poor areas to make way for rich areas, than it is just a wealth grab for the well off and ought to be called out as such. Unless it is something for true public use like a school or an airport, all of these project will benefit very few people. How can anyone justify kicking people out of their homes just so some developer can get rich?

  26. Let me finish my previous.

    Here is the light for ya joe. If you are rich and want a poor persons property who does not wish to sell, you donate to, wine and dine, and otherwise bribe the local government officials. They will then seize it via eminent domain and sell it to you at a bargain price.

    This is how we show our love and concern for the folks who are less affluent than Sports Team owners, coorporations and real estate developers. We push them out of the way.

    Everybody wins, right?

  27. John,

    Clearing areas of occupied housing in order to construct more expensive housing is a pretty rare phenomenon. The stories you see in Reason magazine about eminent domain aren’t a representative sample of how it is typically applied, but are chosen as examples of particularly egregious projects.

    How can anyone justify kicking people out of their homes just so some developer can get rich? Nobody can. But, then, nobody does.

  28. You do know the plan was from a few decades ago, right? When there was much less vacancy?

    Surely you know who you are arguing with. It was 1981, and Detroit was already significantly depopulated by then. To be a bit more specific ~700,000* people had moved out of Detroit in the previous 30 years. Vacant land was hardly a rarity. Even the Michigan Supreme Court finally admitted and corrected their error.

    Go on defending it.

    Not a typo, joe. Seven hundred thousand people.

  29. John and J sub D,

    You’re both forgetting that the majority of residents in the political district may potentially support a development taking on the grounds that it would benefit their bottom line (by lowering their taxes).

    Albeit, that’s a misinformed position, because either sweetheart deals to the developer or increased government spending will vaporize this theoretical benefit. But no one has accused the electorate of being well informed.

  30. “Nobody can. But, then, nobody does.”

    They do it all the time Joe. Go look at any major stadium project in this country and it happens. Any imminent domain project that doesn’t involve a publicly owned facility will by definition make someone rich.

  31. Here is the light for ya joe. If you are rich and want a poor persons property who does not wish to sell, you donate to, wine and dine, and otherwise bribe the local government officials. They will then seize it via eminent domain and sell it to you at a bargain price.

    This is how we show our love and concern for the folks who are less affluent than Sports Team owners, coorporations and real estate developers. We push them out of the way.

    Everybody wins, right?

    Did somebody say something about “more heat than light?”

  32. Oh, Jeebus, J sub, you really don’t want to get into this with me.

    Vacant land was hardly a rarity. Hundred acre sites large enough for a modern automobile assembly plants most certainly were.

    If you could be bothered to put even a moment’s thought into this, you could figure out yourself that a patchwork of housing lots in residential neighborhoods does not add up to a viable site for such a facility – but what fun would that be?

    Go on defending it. I didn’t defend anything, I just corrected a factual error in John’s comment. Then I corrected a factual error in your comment. And now I’m doing it again.

    Keep it up.

  33. John,

    Go look at any major stadium project in this country and it happens. Nope. I haven’t seen a single case of such a project being defended on the grounds that it will make rich people richer, or that it will provide rich people with a venue for their recreation.

    Such projects are always justified on the grounds that they will create jobs for middle class and poor people, or provide public benefits to society as a whole.

    You know, the same justifications for upper-tier income-tax hikes.

  34. You know, the same justifications for upper-tier income-tax hikes.

    Not sure how to take joe’s linkage of the BS that is used to justify eminent domain for private parties and the justifications for soak-the-rich income taxes.

    Is joe seeing the light on forcible wealth redistribution?

  35. You’re both forgetting that the majority of residents in the political district may potentially support a development taking on the grounds that it would benefit their bottom line (by lowering their taxes).

    And the majority supports making it illegal for gays to marry, GWB detainment policies vis a vis War on Terror, torture, and the mythical god knows what else. The majority of southerners in 1860 supported what? Kiss my ass on the majority nonsense. People have rights that the majority are supposedly forbidden to violate.

  36. “Go look at any major stadium project in this country and it happens. Nope. I haven’t seen a single case of such a project being defended on the grounds that it will make rich people richer, or that it will provide rich people with a venue for their recreation.

    Such projects are always justified on the grounds that they will create jobs for middle class and poor people, or provide public benefits to society as a whole.”

    And all of those justifcations are bullshit Joe and you know. There has never been a single economic study that showed that stadium projects do anything but redistribute wealth. Those stadium projects tax poor and middle class people to build billionaires stadiums that only the rich can afford to buy tickets to attend. And while they are at it, they throw people out of their homes and businesses to clear the land to build them.

    It is funny you say “those projects are justified” as if the bullshit claims made by the crooks who back the programs are somehow based in reality.

  37. If your argument isn’t really about facts, but about principles, don’t try to argue facts with someone who knows a lot more about the subject.

    Particularly when he hasn’t written anything about principles, just facts. You end up mangling your facts, getting caught, and then making your points about principle in a defensive, reactive manner. You also get irritated, so your arguments aren’t as well-thought-out and persuasive as they should be.

  38. RC Dean,

    Not sure how to take joe’s linkage of the BS that is used to justify eminent domain for private parties and the justifications for soak-the-rich income taxes.

    As a typo. I meant “upper-tier income tax cuts.” The people who support those cuts always argue that they will produce a broad societal benefit.

  39. At 1:07, J sub D is the champion of the Great Unwashed.

    At 1:59, he takes a bold stand against majoritarianism.

    Redevelopment projects screw the residents of city neighborhoods, except when they want them, at which point the people are too stupid to know what’s good for them.

  40. Vacant land was hardly a rarity.

    Hundred acre sites large enough for a modern automobile assembly plants most certainly were.

    joe you uninformed, untinking idiot. 700,000 people ~1/3 of the population was gone. The city could easily have given up a hundred acre chunk of Rouge Park (>1,000 acres) for the plant. A third of the populace is gone but the city government wouldn’t part with a tenth of the citis (barely) largest park. The voters would have gotten pissed at the politicians, so the pols decided to shit on the Poletown residents instead.

    As usual, you are talking out of youe anal orifice.

  41. John,

    And all of those justifcations are bullshit Joe and you know. There has never been a single economic study that showed that stadium projects do anything but redistribute wealth. Actually, such studies often show a positive economic impact, but rarely enough to justify their cost. Building minor league ballparks sometimes turns out to be a net-good. BTW, “redistribe wealth” can be a good thing, if the goal is to steer development into an economically distressed area. The money a city invests in developing an industrial park “redistributes” wealth the same way, by causing a business to locate here rather than there. That’s actually the point.

    It is funny you say “those projects are justified” as if the bullshit claims made by the crooks who back the programs are somehow based in reality. “They are justified…” meaning, “the justificaiton provided by their supporters is…” I’m not saying they are a good idea, or worthwhile. When you’re talking about major-league sports venues, they almost always are not worth a big public investment.

  42. “Particularly when he hasn’t written anything about principles, just facts. You end up mangling your facts, getting caught, and then making your points about principle in a defensive, reactive manner. You also get irritated, so your arguments aren’t as well-thought-out and persuasive as they should be.”

    What the hell are you talking about Joe? My point is that imminent domain as all about taking from the poor middle class and giving to the rich. I give the faux example of tearing down ski resorts in Aspen to show how hypocritical imminent domain supporters are. They would never support taking a rich person’s how and tearing it down no matter how valuable the project is. Then your response is that the government should always take the cheapest land available, which is really just another way of saying the government should always victimize the less fortunate because it costs less to victimize them. Great.

    There is just no way to defend these projects Joe and you know it. It is interesting to see your dilemma here. On the one hand we have your love of government and on the other we have your concern for less fortunate. I am sorry to see your love of government win. I really am.

  43. J sub D said:

    Kiss my ass on the majority nonsense.

    My point was that the blame for ED usage cannot simply be laid at the feet of developers and politicians. Those actors usually have the support of the populace at large. Thus, ED can’t simply be perceived as a reverse Robin Hood action.

    I never once claimed that majoritarianism was valid justification for ED.

  44. 700,000 people ~1/3 of the population was gone. Which still does not generate hundreds of acres of contiguous vacant land suitable for a large manufacturing plant, as you admit in your next argument:

    The city could easily have given up a hundred acre chunk of Rouge Park (>1,000 acres) for the plant. A park is not vacant land.

    Let’s go to the tape: After all, vacant land in the Motor City is so fucking rare, it would require Sherlock Holmes to find any.

    But it’s nice that you care so much about the poor residents of Detroit that you are willing to close down the city’s largest park.

    Lemme give you a head’s up: this tantrum you’re throwing isn’t helping your case. Deep breaths. Maybe you should just leave this thread alone?

  45. Intelligent people –
    Ignore the typos please. It’s not worth the effort when arguing with unthinking, uninformed, immoral fools.

  46. John,

    What the hell are you talking about Joe?

    I’m talking about J sub D. He isn’t holding up his end very well.

    My point is that imminent domain as all about taking from the poor middle class and giving to the rich. Which runs contrary to the facts in most cases.

    They would never support taking a rich person’s how and tearing it down no matter how valuable the project is. Actually, Robert Moses used to do exactly that, even re-routing the Long Island Expressway to a less-direct route in order to take some rich people’s property. He did this to gain political support.

    …which is really just another way of saying the government should always victimize the less fortunate because it costs less to victimize them. No, it’s not. Vacant properties and vacant land, older industrial land in particular, can often be picked up cheaply.

    You have this nice little ideological narrative in your head, but you don’t know very much about the subject. You make a large number of assumptions that don’t jibe with reality. You should cut that out.

  47. Pfizer had nothing to do with Kelo, and Mrs. Kelo’s fight had nothing to do with Pfizer. The land wasn’t being taken for Pfizer, or as part of the plan that involved Pfizer. Rather, the city came up with another plan, for a different area, after the plan to build a Pfizer complet in a different area had been drawn up.

    I’m not arguing that Mrs. Kelo fought Pfizer in a court case. I’m just saying that Pfizer didn’t have nothing to do with the case. The name was mentioned in the articles all the time; it is easy to link “Kelo vs. New London” with “Pfizer,” and to misremember the case as being Kelo against Pfizer. It’s not fair to call out Matt Welch for what was, admittedly, a mistake, when it’s 1) an easy mistake to make, and 2) not germane to the article either way. You wanna point it out, go ahead; it’s a legitimate mistake. But don’t pretend that it’s a gotcha.

    Clearing areas of occupied housing in order to construct more expensive housing is a pretty rare phenomenon. The stories you see in Reason magazine about eminent domain aren’t a representative sample of how it is typically applied, but are chosen as examples of particularly egregious projects.

    Yes, because it’s talking about eminent domain abuse. Most of the writers at reason probably aren’t going to say that eminent domain of some sort isn’t a legitimate function of government. They’re not going to take a representative sample of eminent domain use in the US and try to make a case, because most of them are for at least semi-legitimate purposes. I don’t know what the libertoids in your head are arguing, but the real ones here are mostly against land being taken by the government and sold at below-market prices to developers. Which is, after all, what Kelo is about.

  48. joe believes this shit. He really does. For the “good” of the majority (defined as those who have purchased politicians) property rights should be sacrificed. joe has never been to the park I mentioned, he knows nothing about the attendance and facilities that are there, but he is certain that a 100 acre piece of it is more important than the Poletyown neighborhood.

    joe is a fool.

  49. joe said:

    BTW, “redistribe wealth” can be a good thing, if the goal is to steer development into an economically distressed area.

    The fallacy of that line of thinking is that it improperly assumes that the same property owners exist before and after the redevelopment. I’m not sure you’ve accomplished much if all you can do is point to a map outline and say “that area has a higher net wealth” unless you can also show that there was a net benefit to the property owners who existed before the redevelopment was even discussed.

  50. This is your problem, John, in a nutshell:

    There is just no way to defend these projects Joe and you know it.

    Which projects? You’ve got so much lumped together in your head that you can’t articulate a sensible argument, or recognize one when it is being made.

    What can’t be justified? The New London Plan? You’re right, which is why I’ve been condemning it for five more years than you’ve been aware of it? Big, expensive stadium projects? You’re right, which is why I denounced them.

    Selectively taking vacant properties, or industrial properties, within an urban neighborhoood in order to build affordable housing there and remove dangerous, blighting influences? That’s very easy to defend.

    But if you don’t know, or don’t care to know, the differences between specific cases, or even whole categories, then all of this is going to go right over your head.

  51. grylliade,

    it is easy to link “Kelo vs. New London” with “Pfizer,” and to misremember the case as being Kelo against Pfizer. Yes, it is. And this is a pet peeve of mine.

    It’s not fair to call out Matt Welch for what was, admittedly, a mistake, when it’s 1) an easy mistake to make, and 2) not germane to the article either way. Actually, since this “mistake” is easy to research, has often been corrected, and oh yeah, just happens to work as a strong political appeal, I think it’s just fine to call it out. We all want to argue from the correct set of facts, right?

    I don’t know what the libertoids in your head are arguing, but the real ones here are mostly against land being taken by the government and sold at below-market prices to developers. Actually, they’re not arguing about it being sold below market price. They’re arguing against it being taken and sold at all.

    And, since I guess that it wasn’t clear the first time, I was telling John that most eminent domain used in redevelopment projects does not consist of taking poor people’s homes and redeveloping the area for rich people’s homes or other use by rich people. John wrote If it is the case that immenent domain will only be used to buy poor areas to make way for rich areas, than it is just a wealth grab for the well off and ought to be called out as such, and I was pointing out that “imminent domain” isn’t only used for that, and in fact, is not even primarily used for that, even in the subset of ED that involves redevelopment projects.

  52. MP,

    I’m not sure you’ve accomplished much if all you can do is point to a map outline and say “that area has a higher net wealth” unless you can also show that there was a net benefit to the property owners who existed before the redevelopment was even discussed. But the property owners are not the only relevant stakeholders. Consider a common sitation; some old, mainly-vacant warehouse properties, vcant lots, and parking lots are taken, and the area redeveloped into a combination of office space, housing, retail, roads, and parks. One needn’t show that the owners of those vacant lots and warehouses are better off to show that the surrounding neighborhood, and the city as a whole, and even the region as a whole, are better off for the project having been conducted.

    The case of selectively weeding out vacant lots and buildings within a poor neighborhood, so they can be cleared, cleaned, and sold for redevelopment, is another such case.

  53. why is everyone arguing about something they agree on? youse guys are hilarious.

  54. Rich Ard,

    Because what we don’t agree on – whether to use eminent domain to foster redevelopment that improves, rather than displacing – poor urban neighborhoods isn’t an argument the libertarians want to have.

  55. MP is exactly right about the fallacy of redistribution. Chinatown in Washington is a perfect example of that. It distributed the wealth to that neighborhood and promptly priced the locals out of it. It did the people who lived there absolutely no good and forced them all to find new homes. On top of that, they got to pay extra taxes so that Abe Polin could have a new arena and rich people could take over Chinatown. The same thing happened when I lived in San Antonio. The Spurs got a sales tax passed to build a new arena in east San Antonio. The people in the area around it did not benefit one bit. But, the Spurs’ owners got rich and got to double the price of their tickets ensuring many of the people who paid for the arena will never be able to enjoy the arena. Prior to the arena, the Spurs played in the Alamo dome and sold upper deck tickets dirt cheap. In the smaller more corporate friendly SWB Center, there are no cheap upper deck seats anymore.

    Joe, I don’t know why you find it so hard to accept the idea that private developers should have to buy their own land. If the land is truly abandoned and blighted, they wouldn’t need the government to buy it. They only need to rely on government coercion because it is not blighted and they don’t want to pay what the owner wants to sell. Which projects Joe? All of them. Every damn one of them that didn’t go to publicly owned and essential infrastructure is theft for the benefit of a developer. If imminent domain is used to benefit a private entity, it is misuse of government power and theft. Period.

    Lastly, if you banned local governments from doing this kind of thing, then business would build based on the economic reality not on the basis of which local government is going to let them steal the most. The only way to stop it is to ban it at the federal level under the commerce clause. Otherwise, the Joes of the world will be telling us how if we don’t roll over and bribe the car maker, they will just build the factory in the next state over.

  56. joe said:

    Actually, Robert Moses used to do exactly that, even re-routing the Long Island Expressway to a less-direct route in order to take some rich people’s property.

    Wha? Fact check. I think you’re mis-remembering. It’s not what I recalled, so I went back to my Caro. The story (if this is what you’re referring to) is on pages 299-303 and it involves the Northern State Parkway. The story is that he wanted to plow through some estates in Old Westbury, because that was the most direct route. They resisted, and uncovered the fact that Moses had already re-routed part of the NSP on behalf of a relative (Otto Kahn). Moses eventually caved under pressure and also rerouted the NSP around Old Westbury as well. Thus, he made the NSP 11 miles longer than necessary, to accommodate his friends/relative and also caving into pressure from other rich people.

    I see nothing that shows he went out of his way to make either the LIE or the NSP longer simply in order to spite rich people.

  57. Moses is also responsible for the Broklyn Dodgers moving to Los Angelos. Peter O’Malley had the private funding together to build what would have been the first domed stadium in history at the terminus of the Long Island Railroad in Broklyn. But Moses killed the plan because he had decided that a new ball park was going to built in Queens on the site of the world’s fair grounds. Moses got his way and the tax payers of New York lost the Dodgers and got stuck with the Mets. Bastard!!

  58. Property owners cannot be trusted to make optimum societal use of their property unless they get appointed or elected to government zoning boards or planning commissions, at which point they acquire the wisdom and knowledge necessary to determine how a piece of property is best used.

    The ironic beauty of Kelo is that here in Connecticut, it’s impossible to be elected to any public office unless you’re willing to shed copious crocodile tears about how the state’s losing population (indeed we are) because it’s too damned expensive here for any non-rich person to live comfortably (indeed it is).

    But Suzette Kelo and her neighbors managed to get themselves some pretty little houses in a cute waterfront neighborhood … until the city government decided they weren’t shelling out enough tax dollars to deserve the privilege of continuing to live on their own property.

    When I moved into my own neighborhood three and a half years ago, there were several low-rent businesses within easy walking distance of my apartment. Not anymore — the city decided that discount stores and job-lot outlets were not ‘the right kind’ of business, so everything was ED’d and torn down. Now there’s a big vacant lot there, the city collects no tax money from it at all, and many more tax dollars are being spent on attempts to bribe businessmen to pretty-please come in and build something taxable on those weedy vacant lots that used to be taxpaying, viable businesses until the city decided they weren’t ritzy enough.

    Sometimes I really think a lot of low-rent Connecticut cities like New London suffer from believing their own propaganda: you know, this is Connecticut, the movies tell us we’re all supposed to be rich trust-fund yacht-owning preppy WASPs here, so if we can just condemn all the working-class homes and businesses out of existence the super-rich will fall all over themselves to fill in the vacuum and bring reality in line with what we say it “ought” to be.

  59. If the land is truly abandoned and blighted, they wouldn’t need the government to buy it. HA ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

    This is the sort of thing you write when you don’t know much about a subject, and just assume that things must work the way your political narrative tells you it should work.

    Um, no, that’s not quite right, John.

    If imminent domain is used to benefit a private entity, it is misuse of government power and theft. Period. If that was the case, and the specifics don’t actually matter, then why are you so insistent that redevelopment takings can’t ever involve taking land other than poor people’s homes, or that it could produce a broader benefit?

    Because you know, or at least suspect, that the facts don’t actually make the case you wish they would make.

    I don’t spend my time arguine that theft is wrong because it involves rich people stealing from poor people. Why do you think that is?

    “It’s theft” is one argument. “It doesn’t produce benefits for the people it intends to help” is a different argument. You can’t assume the second is true, just because it would be politically convenient in your effort to argue the former.

  60. this is Connecticut, the movies tell us we’re all supposed to be rich trust-fund yacht-owning preppy WASPs here, so if we can just condemn all the working-class homes and businesses out of existence the super-rich will fall all over themselves to fill in the vacuum and bring reality in line with what we say it “ought” to be

    Ha, this is very true. I remember as a kid telling people that I was from Connecticut and they would start looking around for my limo, butler, and polo mallet.

  61. the city decided that discount stores and job-lot outlets were not ‘the right kind’ of business, so everything was ED’d and torn down. Now there’s a big vacant lot there, the city collects no tax money from it at all, and many more tax dollars are being spent on attempts to bribe businessmen to pretty-please come in and build something taxable on those weedy vacant lots that used to be taxpaying, viable businesses until the city decided they weren’t ritzy enough.

    Sometimes I really think a lot of low-rent Connecticut cities like New London suffer from believing their own propaganda: you know, this is Connecticut, the movies tell us we’re all supposed to be rich trust-fund yacht-owning preppy WASPs here, so if we can just condemn all the working-class homes and businesses out of existence the super-rich will fall all over themselves to fill in the vacuum and bring reality in line with what we say it “ought” to be.

    A lot of people confuse “ritzy” with “economically viable” and “downscale” with “blighted” or “struggling.” In an era of such severe economic segregation as post-WW2 America, it’s easy to see how such a misperception came into being. When you combine white flight, redlining, and snob zoning, you quickly get a situation where the places where people of limited means live ACTUALLY ARE in economic decline, and the places that are seeing significant investment and a strong business climate ACTUALLY ARE the places where the upper-middle class lives.

    People see this, and they put together an inaccurate causal relationship in their minds. It’s similar to the belief that having homes on larger lots and a lack of a transit- and pedestrian access causes places to have lower crime and better schools.

  62. 700,000 people ~1/3 of the population was gone. The city could easily have given up a hundred acre chunk of Rouge Park (>1,000 acres) for the plant. A third of the populace is gone but the city government wouldn’t part with a tenth of the citis (barely) largest park. The voters would have gotten pissed at the politicians, so the pols decided to shit on the Poletown residents instead.

    WIth a third of the populace gone, that means there must be areas with way more than a third of the populace gone. Which means that in those areas, it would be possible to buy up a hundred acre chunk by offering all the residents a price high enough over the prevailing market rate that everyone in the area would seize the chance to cash out, buy a similar property elsewhere in the city for less money (or leave town entirely) and let the area be rezoned to industrial.

    But paying above market rates costs more than having the government seize it at below market rates and turn it over to you.

    Hence the use of eminent domain.

    J sub D — why take a chunk out of a park when there are largely deserted residential areas available for redevelopment?

  63. There weren’t, in 1981, actually large vacant areas available for redevelopment. When you look at population declines in old cities over the course of the 20th century, you have to look at both persons and households. One of the biggest demographic changes that’s happened in American society is the decline in the number of kids each family has. Going from 6 kids per family to 2 means that a three-decker’s population goes from 24 to 12.

    There was large-scale flight from Detroit, no question, but the “1/3 number” overstates it what happened during that half-century period.

  64. joe said:

    When you combine white flight, redlining, and snob zoning, you quickly get a situation where the places where people of limited means live ACTUALLY ARE in economic decline, and the places that are seeing significant investment and a strong business climate ACTUALLY ARE the places where the upper-middle class lives.

    The thing is, I’ve never understood the reasoning behind not letting something like this continue to proceed organically. So what if an area is actually in decline? If there’s true value in the area, why believe that it will never be unlocked again? Sure, it may take some time, but so what?

  65. MP,

    Because your “some time” is the ruinion of hundreds or thousands of lives.

    Also, because economic decline is not just a consequence, but also a cause of, further economic decline. When a stock drops far enough, it continues to be exactly the same share of a company; only its price has changed. When a neighborhood goes into decline and its properties lose value, that manifests itself as defered maintenance, abandonment, squatting, vandalism, and crime, which futhers drops the value. It’s a vicious cycle.

    There is such a thing as “dignified decline.” There are a lot of middle-class and even lower-income neighborhoods that were one mansion neighborhoods, and have now stabilized at a lower prince point. But when you’re talking about blight, a completely different dynamic takes over.

  66. My job lets me play fly on the wall to small-scale redevelopment projects involving blighted areas; it’s not always as easy as walking up to the door and asking someone to sell. Often in an area that’s fallen apart to the degree that ‘blight’ is an appropriate term, you’re not just going to have problems buying the land from the owner – it can be impossible to locate the owner.

    Just some perspective, I don’t mean to suggest it as a justification, rather a data point.

  67. “Also, because economic decline is not just a consequence, but also a cause of, further economic decline.”

    Fine, then redevelop it. You know what that means Joe? It means property values go up and the people who live there no longer can afford it. Most poor people don’t own. They rent. So they don’t benefit from the rise in property values. Further, many times the redevelopment creates jobs they can’t get. It is just shuffles the poor people off somewhere else and replaces them with gentrifying yuppies. Yeah, the neighborhood looks better but different people live there.

    Instead of wasting government efforts on bullshit redevelopment programs that do nothing but get cronies rich, the government should be spending its resources on things like lowering the crime rate and improving the schools and fixing the roads to improve the quality of life for the people already there. If you do that, they benefit not the yuppies who move in after their landlord has sold out.

    Joe we have been doing redevelopment in cities for 40 years now and have accomplished nothing but padding a few people’s pockets. The whole thing is a sham.

  68. But paying above market rates costs more than having the government seize it at below market rates and turn it over to you.

    I don’t know about Michigan, but in Florida payments for properties taken by eminent domain are above market rates. It is the end user (the developer) who pays the below market rates, the balance being paid by the taxpayers (for all the “economic benefits” they’ll get).

    Most sellers in “blighted areas” jump at the chance to cash out. The problem arises when someone like Ms Kelo owns a piece of property which is not “blighted” and which in her mind cannot be replaced at any price. Other examples of this are a Norwood, OH.

    These are places that are in highly prized locations but owned by people of modest means. They are coveted by developers that believe they can put them to a higher use.

    For all I know the people of Poletown found themselves in the same predicament.

    Incidentally my statement that ED’d properties are purchased at above market rates is not intended as any sort of defense of ED, just a statement of fact.

    It is also important to keep in mind that your market price may not be mine and vice versa. In other words it is doubtful if any buyer could ever have offered a price that Suzette Kelo would have accepted. Conversely it is unlikely that any buyer would have tried. That is to say she placed a much higher value on her own house than anyone else did.

  69. When a neighborhood goes into decline and its properties lose value, that manifests itself as defered maintenance, abandonment, squatting, vandalism, and crime, which futhers drops the value. It’s a vicious cycle.

    Identical to the vicious cycle when the threat of ED hangs over an area. Like the weedy, ugly vacant lot near my place, which used to be an old mall filled with low-rent businesses until everyone heard that the city wanted to condemn it.

    Then the businesses started leaving, and nobody new would come in because who wants to go through the trouble of setting up a new business if the city might condemn it? I signed the petitions asking the city to pretty-please let the businesses stay. Made no difference. The city knows best.

    Then the condemnation order came down. I no longer have several cheap useful stores nearby; now I live near several weedy cracked-asphalt vacant lots, thanks to the city’s useful for-the-greater-good interference with the real-estate market. They’re trying to court new businesses to come in and replace the shabby old ones, but no upscale businesses want to come into what remains a downscale neighborhood.

    Maybe the city will eventually decide it has to tear down the rest of the neighborhood, too.

    Often in an area that’s fallen apart to the degree that ‘blight’ is an appropriate term, you’re not just going to have problems buying the land from the owner – it can be impossible to locate the owner.

    That’s a different issue: “What to do about abandoned property” is a different matter than “what to do if your idea for how best to use a property differs from that of its owner.”

  70. You know what that means Joe? Yes, actually, a whole hell of a lot better than you do, John.

    It means property values go up and the people who live there no longer can afford it. Most poor people don’t own. They rent. So they don’t benefit from the rise in property values. Further, many times the redevelopment creates jobs they can’t get. It is just shuffles the poor people off somewhere else and replaces them with gentrifying yuppies. Yeah, the neighborhood looks better but different people live there.

    Sometimes, depending on the redevelopment plan. On the other hand, building a whole bunch of housing where there wasn’t any before tends to increase the ability of people to find housing, particularly if there is an affordable-housing element to the redevelopment plan.

    Also, if we’re talking about a low-income neighborhood of apartment houses, clearing out a few abandoned ones or building a block of retail isn’t going to flip it into Yuppiesville.

    You have a nice little narrative, John, that accurately describes how things can work, sometimes, if you do A and B and C, but you make a mistake in thinking that every project works the same way. The details of the project, the area in question, and how it is done matter. Sometimes things work as you describe, as sometimes they don’t.

    Nobody who has educated himself on this subject enough to voice an informed opinion could possible write, “Joe we have been doing redevelopment in cities for 40 years now and have accomplished nothing but padding a few people’s pockets.”

  71. Jennifer,

    Identical to the vicious cycle when the threat of ED hangs over an area. Like the weedy, ugly vacant lot near my place, which used to be an old mall filled with low-rent businesses until everyone heard that the city wanted to condemn it. Here here! (Or is it Hear Hear?) That is exactly what can happen.

    Area clearance just sucks. It’s a lousy strategy. I’ve seen projects that include eminent domain that have worked very well, but they were projects that sought to preserve and enhance a neighborhood through targetted acquisition, not replace it entirely with a difference neighborhood in the same location. Even when they “work,” they usually replace something special with something generic, and they often don’t work, because they eliminate every natural advantage the area has (historic buildings, relationships, social capital).

  72. Joe, however well-meaning your arguments are, on this and every other eminent domain thread they boil down to “Yes, I admit that these thousand examples of ED are a bad idea, but let’s continue letting government do it because if we could just put enough safeguards in place, they’d finally do it right.”

    If that dying mall had remained private property rather than public, the chance of it reviving itself would’ve been better. (And it wasn’t so bad in the first place; it was a bunch of viable businesses which just lacked snob appeal.) A piecemeal private revival is more likely than the city’s attempt at some vague all-at-once Solution.

    Which has only made things worse. Now that the city owns it, don’t even THINK of trying to do anything with any of that land unless you have several million dollars you’re willing to invest. It’s no longer a spot for cheap business upstarts.

  73. J sub D — why take a chunk out of a park when there are largely deserted residential areas available for redevelopment?

    I was just pointing out to some moron that even if an acceptable sized piece of land could not be secured and the city really wanted GM to build a plant, selling < 5% of the city’s parkland after a > 35% population loss would be preferable to confiscating homes from people who didn’t want to sell at the price offered.

    You are absolutely correct that GM, with all of the financial resources available to it, could have bought up the few remaining houses in a largely abandoned east side neighborhood, relocated the residents, and built a plant without ED. It’s just so much easier to have the local politicians, those paragons of virtue, seize the Poletown property (access to two freeways!) and pay the owners what they decide the property is worth.

  74. There was large-scale flight from Detroit, no question, but the “1/3 number” overstates it what happened during that half-century period.

    Again correcting somebody who know’s not of which he speaks. 1950 – 1980 is not “half a century’. It is less than a third. And yes joe, in spite of all of your urban planning expertise, there were neighborhoods largely abandoned in Detroit in 1981.

    ~1.3 population loss was actually an understatement. 36% is more accurate.

  75. Jennifer,

    The difference between us is that I am actually aware of, and care about, the other side of the ledger; all of the projects that have brought great benefit to the residents of the cities and neighborhoods where they have taken place.

    All you and John know about redevelopment plans are what you have learned from people who cherrypick the most egregious failures in order to argue against them, in the service of a political stance that is opposed to their existance, regardless of how effective and useful they could be, and have been.

    1950 – 1980 is not “half a century’.

    Good thing I didn’t claim that is was, and that Detroits population loss didn’t beging before 1950, or after 1980. I know your feelings are hurt, but seriously, you should just stop picking fights with me to try to make yourself feel better.

  76. “Joe, however well-meaning your arguments are, on this and every other eminent domain thread they boil down to “Yes, I admit that these thousand examples of ED are a bad idea, but let’s continue letting government do it because if we could just put enough safeguards in place, they’d finally do it right.”

    ha!

    “Again correcting somebody who know’s not of which he speaks.”

    ha ha ha!

  77. Also, Jennifer, I don’t argue let’s continue letting government do it. I argue for a different set of restrictions on what the government can do.

    Mine are actually targeted at avoiding the sob stories you bring up, while yours are about using those sob stories as poster children for an agenda that goes well beyond avoiding such abuses.

    Because, once again, you’re willing to forego the benefits of the good plans, and I’m not. You’re ideologically opposed to using ED, tax dollars, zoning, and other planning tools EVEN WHEN THEY HELP THE PEOPLE YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT, and I’m not.

  78. GM, with all of the financial resources available to it, could have bought up the few remaining houses in a largely abandoned east side neighborhood, relocated the residents, and built a plant without ED.

    Because as the Kelo case demonstrates, people in a targetted area will happily sell their homes to allow the accumulaiton of property if it makes economic sense, and not allow their attachment to their homes get in the way.

    And, of course, the neighborhoods that had the highest vacancy rates are those that have the space, physical features, infrastructure, highway access, and other attributes that make for a successful large-scale industrial facility.

    It’s amazing how simple issues become if you don’t know anything about them.

  79. “That’s a different issue: “What to do about abandoned property” is a different matter than “what to do if your idea for how best to use a property differs from that of its owner.”

    Agreed. And it makes me awfully grumpy to find that a piece of land we’re looking at was taken by the State or County as part of a highway development, then sold to a third party later at an amazing markup. Doesn’t mean that every taking one finds is an example of abuse of that power.

    FWIW, I live across from a hospital, and the block next to mine is falling as medical offices go up. I just hope that a developer comes to my front door in the next couple years rather than a county employee. 🙂

    Mostly I’m poking fun – there are a lot of smart people here and I enjoy watching people fight on the internet in ways they would likely never consider in person.

  80. It’s amazing how simple issues become if you don’t know anything about them.

    The above statement is from somebody who has evideced complete ignorance about Detroit and the rape of Poletown.

  81. From the article:

    governments take property without compensating owners

    Not to be a smartass, but are there any well-documented, recent examples of this? Not that it would surprise me terribly–I’m just skeptical. I mean, that’s like China-level evil.

    You can’t have a city with out fireman, police officers, garbage men, janitors, teachers and the like and those people need some place to live.

    You can if they all live 100 miles away, like they do in SF.

  82. It distributed the wealth to that neighborhood and promptly priced the locals out of it.

    John, I’m not sure why you keep bringing this up – after all, libertarians ordinarily couldn’t care less about locals being priced out of a neighborhood.

  83. The answer to the problem of affordable housing is not to make sure that cities remain so shitty that property values plummet.

    It’s to allow/encourage/make sure the growth that is occurring throughout the metropolitan area includes enough housing at all cost points.

  84. Not to be a smartass, but are there any well-documented, recent examples of this?

    Rhywun, context is important. Here is the entire quote.

    “Kelo has sparked a healthy dialogue, but eminent domain abuse is only the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ ” he writes. “Through local zoning and the regulation of wetlands and endangered species, governments take property without compensating owners and also extort land and money in return for approvals.”

    It’s pretty clear Corace is speaking not of the normally recognized takings (like right of way for a highway, land for a school) where fee title to property is acquired but to the myriad land use and environmental regulations that exist that force owners to set aside property, restrict what the owner can build or allow only a lower value use.

    It has generally been recognised that existing regulations are considered when valuing properties, but what happens if the rules are changed when one already owns a piece of land? There have been court cases to try to establish such rule changes as “takings” if they have the effect of lowering the value of the property.

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