10,000 Abuses & Counting

Spring 2003

10,000 Abuses & Counting

Public Power, Private Gain: A New Resource
for Fighting Eminent Domain Abuse

For many, the American Dream means buying a family home after years of saving or building a small business from the ground up. No one imagines the government will take that property only to hand it over to someone else. But it happens, and as a new, exhaustive report from the Institute for Justice documents, it happens far too frequently.

Public Power, Private Gain is the first-ever report to document instances of eminent domain abuse—where the government forcibly takes private property from its owner so it may give it to another private party. The results are chilling.

From 1998 through 2002, more than 10,000 properties in 41 states have faced condemnation, or the threat of it, to hand the land to private developers. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, as many if not most, condemnations are never reported in public sources.

A black, middle-class neighborhood in Atlantic City leveled for a tunnel to a casino that was never built; four elderly siblings in Bristol, Conn., ousted for an industrial park; and a neighborhood in Lakewood, Ohio, declared “blighted” because the homes lack two-car attached garages are among the hundreds of examples the report details.

But Public Power, Private Gain isn’t all bad news. The good news is that courts have sided with property owners in 37 of 91 recent cases, while citizen activists working independently and through the Castle Coalition, a grassroots network of eminent domain activists formed by the Institute for Justice, have defeated at least 21 projects.

This report is a fantastic resource for HAN members working to stop the epidemic of eminent domain abuse. Here’s how you can use Public Power, Private Gain to fight for property rights:

Get Published

Public Power, Private Gain is available online at www.castlecoaltion.org/report, where statistics, detailed examples, and legislative developments are broken out by state, so you can easily discover how your locality ranks as an abuser of eminent domain. With that information and a bit of national context—10,000-plus abuses nationwide in just five years—you have all you need for a great op-ed or letter to the editor making the case for property rights.

Especially useful for aspiring writers are the special “sidebars” that point out trends in eminent domain abuse, such as the frequent targeting of the elderly, the displacement of middle-class neighborhoods for high-end condos, and the preference for national chains over mom-and-pop establishments. Tying such trends into local events can lend your commentary additional perspective.

Go Academic

As the most comprehensive collection of legal information, policy trends, and data on eminent domain abuse, Public Power, Private Gain is an invaluable starting place for law review articles and public policy research. While the report brings all this information together for the first time, many questions still need investigation by those trained in law and policy work. Questions such as how shifting standards of “blight” threaten property rights, how different legislative proposals may strengthen (or weaken) protection for property owners, and many others are ripe for further research.

Arm Local Activists

The sheer volume of Public Power, Private Gain should convince property owners and citizen activists that the fight against eminent domain abuse is worth pursuing—and should put local bureaucrats on notice that no longer can they escape public scrutiny in their backroom deals with private interests. Use the statistics and information in the report to rally activists and civic leaders in your city or state to the cause of property rights.

Lobby Local Officials

As we discovered in researching the report, a number of cities and towns have passed resolutions and ordinances forbidding the use of eminent domain for private economic development. Use these examples to encourage officials in your locality to do likewise, and help them understand that communities can prosper while protecting the rights of their citizens.

Keep Counting

IJ and the Castle Coalition are continuing the project that Public Power, Private Gain has begun: chronicling the nationwide epidemic of eminent domain abuse. Help keep us informed about local controversies you discover by sending news articles or first-hand updates.

The epidemic of eminent domain abuse has claimed too many victims—but Public Power, Private Gain is powerful new tool for property rights activists seeking to slap back the overreaching hand of government.

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