Yesterday the Mount Vernon, New York, city council declared nearly eight acres of the city, which borders on New York City, blighted. The designation means officials can create an urban renewal plan for the south side neighborhood—which is 90 percent African American according to census data—and use eminent domain to seize property for private developers. In fact, a private developer, MVP Realty Associates, which intends to build a "transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, intergenerational mixed income destination," paid for the blight study.
Via the Mount Vernon Daily Voice:
"This is exactly what we need to move forward," said Council President Roberta Apuzzo. "…It's not safe, clean or healthy and the only way to get the drug addicts out of the community is to make the place pretty."
Of the 67 properties included in the blight study, the consultant found 38 to have a "blighting influence." Half are either owned by the city or controlled by MVP Realty. Nine of MVP's 10 properties were found blighted by the consultant and some have previously been declared uninhabitable by the city.
Some private owners dispute that their properties warrant the label:
I reviewed the blight study, and I don't think 'poor' is the proper word for a wall that needs to be repainted," said Bishop William Ewell, associate minister of the New Hope Cornerstone Church, whose property was found to be in "poor condition."
The designation means that property owners who wish to maintain their properties could be forced to sell to MVP or have the city seize their property. Threatened properties include single and multi-family homes, apartment buildings with ground-floor retail, four churches, and businesses including a daycare with a well-maintained playground, a nail salon, delis, a Jamaican restaurant, a laundromat, and small grocery stores.
The proposed plan borders on another urban renewal area, established in 1981, the main accomplishments of which, according to the consultant, has been to attract a supermarket and chain auto parts retailer to the neighborhood.
New York is one of only six states that did not reform its eminent domain laws in the wake of Kelo v. New London, in which the Supreme Court held that seizing property for private development is a public use.
Reason readers will recall the phenomenon of a developer owning a substantial amount of rundown property in a neighborhood declared blighted courtesy of a study paid for by the developer from the Columbia University project in Manhattan and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.