The Real Blight in Montgomery
Aug 27, 2010
As if eminent domain – in which the government seizes one’s property and pays what it sees as “just compensation” – wasn’t bad enough, city officials in Montgomery, Ala. have discovered a loophole that allows them to condemn and demolish private residences without compensation, leaving the owner to foot the bill or else face a lien on the property.
Alabama, which took a stand in favor of private property rights five years ago by outlawing eminent domain except for publicly-funded projects, allows exceptions for the seizure of blighted properties. Under the law, buildings can be demolished “due to poor design, obsolescence, or neglect” if they can have an effect on public safety such as mold contamination or are structurally weak and prone to collapse.
This loophole, however, is now being exploited by Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who is hoping to attract higher-income developers to the city’s famous Civil Rights Trail at the expense of the lower-income families who currently live there. Mayor Strange has said that by condemning these properties, he is cleaning up the city and making the neighborhood safer for all residents, but the citizens who have had their homes destroyed aren’t buying it. Several residents who have had their houses declared “in disrepair” have teamed with the Institute for Justice and are fighting back against the Montgomery City Council to protect their basic right to private property.
If the Montgomery city officials are allowed to decide, willy-nilly, which houses are threats to public safety and which houses are not, who is to say that the government can’t tear down your house simply because someone didn’t like it? Instead of punishing these families for not living up to some arbitrary standard of housing, perhaps the city of Montgomery could take care of the true blight – politicians like Todd Strange who favor the potential of increased revenues over the well-being of his city’s citizens.