This should be one of the keystone and defining issues for the NAR. I know that the NAR and some of the state associations are working (too) quietly to curb governmental abuses of the Power of Eminent Domain.
If you are unfamiliar with Eminent Domain, it is the power that governments of various levels have to condemn private property for public usage. Don’t be thrown off by the word condemn, it has needn’t have anything to do with condition of the property. Some examples of non-condition related, proper eminent domain would be property needed to build or expand roadways, public schools, or other needed institutions, like fire stations, police stations, etc. Occasionally, eminent domain is used to correct a blighted area. However, that has not been that common, and usually involved abandoned property, rather than taking property from an active owner.
But, in the last decade or so, there has been an acceleration of governmental use of the power of Eminent Domain. Often, this hasn’t been about roads, water facilities, police and fire stations, or other legitimate public uses. It has been stretched by courts and governmental authorities for such purposes as shopping centers, more expensive homes, high rises and other private uses. Just do a Google Search for Eminent Domain Abuse. Oh wait, I did… The Castle Coalition has an interactive map that allows one to view highlights (lowlights?) of abuses by location. Here are a few from various sources.
From CBS News:
Jim Saleet worked in the pharmaceutical industry, paid off his house and then retired. Now, he and his wife plan to spend the rest of their days there, and pass their house on to their children.
But Lakewood’s mayor, Madeleine Cain, has other plans. She wants to tear down the Saleets’ home, plus 55 homes around it, along with four apartment buildings and more than a dozen businesses.
Why? So that private developers can build high-priced condos, and a high-end shopping mall, and thus raise Lakewood’s property tax base.
The mayor told 60 Minutes that she sought out a developer for the project because Lakewood’s aging tax base has been shrinking and the city simply needs more money.
As much as I hate to pile on Wal-Mart (nobody is forced to shop there, people do it because they want to), they have been at the center of more than their share of Eminent Domain cases.
From Reclaim Democracy:
But if the city of Denver has its way, these small businesses will be evicted to make way for a Wal-Mart super-center. The city’s Urban Renewal Authority has threatened condemnation if the property owners refuse to sell and has offered Wal-Mart $10 million in public subsidies.
Wal-Mart leads the pack in attracting subsidies, this year collecting $10 million in Denver; $500,000 in Dallas; $36.7 million in Scottsdale, Ariz., (as part of a shopping center that includes Lowe’s); $9 million in Bartlesville, Okla.; and $17 million in Lewiston, Maine.
Just wander around that search and you’ll some surprising things. The most important reason the NAR needs to be involved is that we represent people. And these people are buying their dreams. What good is buying the dream if the government can come along and decide that they can get more tax dollars if they just take away someone else’s dream?
I’ll step down from my soap box for a few minutes now.