It's customary, when discussing eminent domain, to allow that it's a necessary use of state power that enhances the good of the community, before then going on to discuss whatever horrendous abuse is being committed this week through the application of the government's ability to take private property for "public use." I'm not going to do that, because eminent domain is always, at its core, nothing more than government officials forcibly substituting their preferences for those of people who actually own the stuff the officials want to use. That's at best. At worst, it's a means for officials to aggrandize themselves and their friends, and a weapon to use against others. If you want yet another illustration of that fact, take a peek at the forever-entertaining City of Brotherly Love, where the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority plans to grab a couple dozen properties to develop for affordable housing, many of which are already slated for private development.
From the Philadelphia Daily News:
CITY COUNCIL'S Rules Committee moved forward with a controversial plan Tuesday that would allow the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) to take more than two dozen properties through eminent domain to build affordable housing in Point Breeze.
A month ago, that plan, sponsored by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson on behalf of the Nutter administration, included 43 properties, some of which private developers owned and planned to develop.
PRA had since reduced the number of properties it will condemn to 28, including 17 privately owned and 11 city-owned properties, after it found that owners have projects under way, applied for permits or are using the lots as side yards to their residences. Council could give the plan final approval in two weeks.
But even with the reduced list, developer Ori Feibush, who made national headlines recently for his fight with the city over a vacant lot, said the city is taking several properties owned by himself or developers he represents.
Ori Feibush, you may remember, recently got in a tussle with the city over his cleanup of a vacant lot adjacent to his cafe that he'd offered to purchase. The city didn't respond, so he carted off a reported 40 tons of trash and prettied it up at his own expense. Philadelphia officials ordered him to restore it to its former glory, and hilarity ensued. Feibush's OCF Realty owns some of the properties targeted by the city for acquisition, even though Philadelphia already owns a whole lot of unused parcels in Point Breeze.
The map below, courtesy of the Philadelinquency blog, displays city property in the area, as well as targeted private parcels.
Hmmm … That's a lot of city parcels the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority could be using for "affordable housing."
In an OpEd published last week, Councilman Johnson said of the federal "stimulus"-funded scheme, "[o]ne of the criteria set by the federal government for picking neighborhoods was that the areas contain high numbers of vacant, blighted lots and properties in foreclosure." And, of the private owners, he said "none of the owners has indicated that he plans to develop the properties in the near future." But we know from news reports that many of the private developers do have plans that will be short-circuited if the property is seized.
There's no knowing for sure that the Point Breeze project contains any elements of retribution against Ori Feibush for publicly humiliating Philadelphia officials. But, whatever the various motivations, it's obvious that tax money and force are being used to head off private development, in favor of a project favored by government officials.
Eminent domain, once more being put in the service of "public use."