Buying Blight

Eminent domain abuse


Grabby developers know a sure way to overcome resistance from an owner who refuses to sell his property: Declare it blighted. That's what happened recently in Mount Vernon, New York, which borders on New York City. In October city council members declared nearly eight acres of the city blighted—a designation that authorizes the use of eminent domain for private development. MVP Realty Associates, a private developer, paid for the blight study.

MVP, which says it wants to build a "transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, intergenerational mixed income destination," has begun buying properties in the neighborhood. Of the 10 properties MVP controls, nine were found to have a "blighting influence," and some were so rundown the city ordered them vacated. (The city owns nine other properties determined to be blighted.) But the blight label means MVP can force even the owners of well-maintained homes and businesses in the neighborhood to sell under the threat of condemnation. The threatened properties include single- and multi-family homes, apartment buildings with ground-floor businesses, four churches, and a day care center. 

"This is exactly what we need to move forward," Council President Roberta Apuzzo said in an October city council meeting, according to the Mount Vernon Daily Voice. "It's not safe, clean, or healthy," she added, "and the only way to get the drug addicts out of the community is to make the place pretty." Apuzzo also said she voted to accept the study's results because she felt low property prices throughout the town were "absurd."