June 27, 2010
Downsizing Detroit by means of eminent domain
When we think of eminent domain, normally we think of the government taking private land in order to put it to public use, although the controversial (and incorrect, IMO) Kelo decision expanded the concept to include government takings for private use -- if that private use can be said to improve a city's tax base.
What's being proposed for Detroit, though, is a new wrinkle. The mayor wants to condemn private property in areas that the city deems too sparsely populated, and the reason given is that it's inconvenient for the city to continue offering government services. So eminent domain is not being used to help the city grow, but to shrink the city.
For downsizing. Eminent domain expert Alan Ackerman explains:
There are areas of the city where 60 to 80 percent of the area is vacant. There are areas with three houses instead of the 150 they used to have. In those areas, the same costs exist to put the water and sewer in the neighborhood. The police still have to drive there. This mayor needs to find out if he can buy these homes at fair market value and move them to areas that are still viable and have a higher density of homes. If there is a higher density, then it is a lot easier for the utility companies to go there. What you need to do is figure out how to treat people fairly and do it constitutionally. The state constitution will allow the city to acquire individual homes by eminent domain. However, the state statute is more restrictive than the constitution. You have to allow the city to remove homes that are shown to be blighted or worthy of condemnation.I'm not sure about the assumption that once the government buys up the remaining homes in shrinking neighborhoods and tears them down, the police won't have to drive there. Will they be "closed"? What's to stop criminals from going there and hiding, camping out, and using them as bases of crime to better prey on surrounding areas? The people promoting these utopian schemes like to talk about using the land for urban farming, and "daylighting" old creeks and restoring the land, but with the land still there and still part of Detroit, the police are going to have to police it. Who will protect the people who tend these "urban farms"?
I'm skeptical. And what about the people who just want to live in perfectly good homes where they have lived for years? It isn't their fault that the surrounding houses were abandoned, vandalized, or burned. They paid their taxes, and now the government that has been taking their money all these years wants to take their houses because they are suddenly deemed inconvenient. I would think that they should at least allow people to opt out of being bought out. There's just something about the government saying, "we can't offer you services any more so we want your house" that I find offensive in the extreme. Like "we can't protect you, so get out!"
Why not allow people the option of signing a waiver agreeing to be on their own and take their chances? Besides, many of these Detroit houses are worth next to nothing, so paying 125 percent of next to nothing is a travesty.
I realize that few people care about Detroit, but if they can do this there, they can do it anywhere.
Hey, how about let's demolish suburban neighborhoods to prevent sprawl?
posted by Eric on 06.27.10 at 04:32 PM
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