While the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution declares that every citizen has the right to own private property, the exact same amendment also states that if private land is to be seized for public use, then just compensation must be made. Oftentimes, however, this compensation is mere market value for a property and does not include any built-in financial or other cushion for those who must suddenly find a new home. While it is illegal for governments both federal and local to take over land without offering something in return, the monetary value of a home is not all that is at stake. The use of this power often robs home and business owners of their property and livelihood to benefit the city and private developers. The concept of “public use" no longer means roads, highways, and other broad public works, but has also come to mean economic redevelopment projects which pay off in the millions for both the city and the developers who dream up such endeavors. This is akin to thievery and it is built right into the Constitution. No longer are “public works" clearly defined and thus neither are personal and property owner rights. The use of eminent domain for private profit and often under the guise of “economic redevelopment" or “revitalization"is theft on a grand scale and should be understood as such and halted.

In recent years the Supreme Court as well as state and local governments have supported the use of eminent domain to enact economic revitalization projects. These actions seek to improve an area by introducing new buildings, businesses, and of course, tax revenues for the city. In many cases, private developers are brought in to handle the specifics and it can be assumed that they stand to gain just as much as the city. These developers and their associated construction and other connections all stand to gain, especially if an area is economically depressed and they can acquire these properties at the market value which can be next to nothing for the homeowner. In other words, the city and developer can amass a number of desirable properties at a very low cost. The only drawback for them is the scrutiny they might face from the community which can often be allayed for many by these promises of new parks, schools, shopping, and dining. According to one source, the use of eminent domain to back economic redevelopment has been occurring more frequently. In addition, changes have been taking place in how cities set up these projects as well. “For many years states and local governments have issued permits for construction to property developers only after they had agreed to provide sidewalks, streets, sewage facilities, and so forth" (Mangone 2002). Now, however, there are more development projects that get the green light without such concessions being made since the city is counting on increased tax revenue. This shows a clear lack of concern about the community and definite blind interest in profits on the part of both the city and the developer.

When it comes to the use of eminent domain and economic redevelopment, it seems that everyone makes out except for the unlucky business or homeowners who happen to be in the path. For these unfortunate property owners the city can legally (and often with plenty of “support" from private developers) inform private home and business owners that they must vacate within a given time frame. The Fifth Amendment declares that proper compensation must be given but often, especially in economically depressed areas, the amount is negligible and cannot come close to the emotional, generational, or other attachment homeowners have to their property. Furthermore, businesses in the area can oftentimes not afford to relocate to a new location and are forced out of business completely. This is exactly the case in Liberty Triangle where LTD Enterprises, a development firm, as well as the city has come up with a plan to “revitalize" a section of town. According to their estimates, after development Liberty Triangle’s City Planning and Development Director speculates that property tax income should increase 684 percent and sales tax income should jump 1, 167 percent (Ventimiglia 2004). These are incredibly high figures but the true cost is not mentioned. Several long term residents and business owners will be forced out of locations they have called home for years. As one business owner states, “It’ll end up putting me out of business. I’ve been here 23 years and I’d have to find another place" (Ventimiglia 2004). Due to the higher taxes in the city as well as the low price business and homeowners often get from eminent domain settlements, this businessman is likely correct when he goes on to say that he will have to look for another job and give up his business for good. While economic revitalization may sound great on paper it is the end of people’s lifelong dreams—all to profit developers and a city greedy for more revenue, even at the cost of some of its own citizens and taxpayers. In many discussions by advocates of eminent domain in economic development schemes, little attention is given to the issue of personal rights, most notably that which states that every citizen is granted the right to own private property.

Some might argue that it is ridiculous to not engage in some kind of economic redevelopment, even if there are some losses of homes or businesses. This can be particularly true in areas that are economically depressed and are eyesores or crime-infested areas of the community. These advocates also claim that the tax revenue from such localized economic redevelopment could have far-reaching financial effects and because of the higher tax revenue could result in drastically better schools, hospitals, police and fire units, and other public works. To them, seeing a few displaced residents is well worth the trouble in the end. Proponents of eminent domain to be used for economic development would also suggest that even though some businesses and homes are lost there is monetary compensation being given to those who are being forced out. While they might not recognize that this is not enough to sustain the same level of comfort or regular business, they often claim that they are offering these ex—residents a chance at a fresh start after the “sale" of their property. Still, when both the city and the developers stand to gain so much from the use of eminent domain one has to wonder if the best interests of the community are really at the heart of the decision. As it stands it is far too easy for the city in conjunction with an astute group of developers to acquire property at an incredibly cheap price in any location they desire and to see almost immediate profits—even if some of these profits go to benefit the community.

Other essays and articles in the Argument and Main Archives related to this topic include :An Overview of Housing and Urban RevitalizationExtended Definition of Insular Poverty in the United StatesArgumentative Analysis of the Essay “First Amendment Junkie” by Susan JacobyCompare / Contrast On Rural Versus Urban LivingRace, Class, and Structural Inequality in Post-Katrina New OrleansPreemptive Urban Revitalization: Phoenix and the Valley Metro Rail System

Works Cited

Mangone, G. J. (2002). Private Property Rights: The Development of Takings in the United States.International Journal of Marine & Coastal Law, 17(2), 195.

Ventimiglia, Jack. (2004). Caludron of discord bubbling in Triangle.