NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Condemns Property for Private Development

March 24, 2004

A study by the Institute for Justice reports that government takings of private land has increased over the last five years and shows no sign of slowing down. This process, typically referred to as "eminent domain," is constitutionally constrained to projects for "public use" and then only with just compensation. While public use is commonly understood to mean things like highways and police stations, the courts have interpreted the term much more broadly.

The result, researchers say, has been a boon for private developers. With government empowered to condemn property for the development of casinos, condominiums and shopping malls, private companies have been quick to cozy up to local bureaucrats in order to secure land cheaply without the hassles of negotiating with individual owners. Similarly, government uses expanded eminent domain powers to trumpet exciting projects to the electorate, promising new jobs and more government revenue.

The study found that between 1998 and 2002 governments across the United States have condemned 10,000 homes, businesses, churches, and private land for private business development. Among some of the more notable examples include:

  • A family's home was condemned so that the manager of a planned new golf course could live in it.
  • Four elderly siblings were evicted from their home of 60 years for a private industrial park
  • An 80-year old woman was removed from her home, supposedly to expand a sewer plant, but her land actually ended up being given over to an auto dealership.

Researchers note that cities use eminent domain to favor corporations and national chains over small, local businesses as well as upscale condos over middle-class, single family homes. Moreover, because no one's home or small business would generate as many jobs or taxes as a big business, no one's land, business or home is safe from government condemnation, say researchers.

Source: Dana Berliner, "Protect the American Dream," Cascade Update, Winter 2003, Cascade Policy Institute; based on Dana Berliner, "Public Power, Private Gain," Institute for Justice, April 2003. For text


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