New York City Government “Forcefully Encourages” Residents to Relinquish Private Property

The issue of who may own private property in New York City has surfaced twice in two separate court hearings in the past month. But what is even more frightful is that the two courts cannot reach the same verdict.

First, a little history lesson. Upon the establishment of this great nation, the Founding Fathers spoke specifically to the government ownership of private property. The Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights states clearly, “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Essentially, the government may only seize private property to build things for public use, ie: bridges, roads, and public parks. In the Supreme Court Case Berman v. Parker (1954), the courts approved of the government’s use of eminent domain to seize areas of “blight” and essentially gentrify cities for the “public good”.

Back to present-day problems.

The first case involves developer Bruce Ratner and a $4.9 billion dollar pro-basketball arena which will now force tenants out of their “blighted” housing in Brooklyn – housing which was found to be “blighted” after a firm specializing in such inspections determined that it was.Conservative commentator George Will wrote an op-ed exposing the scheme for what it really is: a government attempt at private land-grab. After all, a sports facility will surely earn more revenue for the city than mere residential tenants. The tenants of the condemned buildings have not given up yet, though. Many have refused to sell their properties, standing on their Constitutional rights, and prompting what is sure to be a court battle.

Advocates for the government land-grab in Brooklyn often cite Kelo v. the City of New London (2005), where the Supreme Court ruled to enact eminent domain so the government could seize “slum” land for private development by Pfizer. This was all done under the pretense that the public as a whole would ultimately benefit from the private development. And yet after all the judicial arguing and eviction of residents, the site was ultimately abandoned just four years later in November, 2009.

Luckily, the second case has fared much better in the New York court system. Columbia University had planned for a major expansion into Manhattan, and similarly the property in question was found to be “blighted”. But when the case was taken to the state court, the court found the report to be utter nonsense. No appeal has yet been filed, though the prospect is not out of the question.

While the issue of eminent domain stems from the federal government, enforcement ultimately resides within each individual state. The Institute for Justice, a non-profit legal firm which seeks to uncover unfair government regulations, spoke specifically to New York’s lack of eminent domain laws. In fact, the Institute for Justice calls New York “perhaps the worst state in the nation when it comes to eminent domain abuse”. In an effort to combat the government machine, the Institute for Justice also lists a series of ways residents can protect themselves from the greedy hands of government and push for stricter eminent domain laws in their state. Likewise, state governments should be more proactive about protecting the Constitutional rights of their citizens and pass laws restricting the use of eminent domain.