Documentary Highlights Jersey Shore Eminent Domain Abuse

While the public outrage over eminent domain abuse following the 2005 Kelo ruling has waned to some degree, the controversy surrounding private property takings for purposes of “economic redevelopment” still burns in many municipalities across the country. Now a new documentary, titled Greetings from Asbury Park (yes, like the Springsteen record–he is listed among the film’s supporters), seeks to bring national attention to the plight of one elderly woman fighting to keep the home she has lived in for two generations.

“Greetings from Asbury Park” tells the story through the eyes of 91-year-old Angie Hampilos, a Greek immigrant who has lived in her tidy seaside bungalow for more than 50 years. It’s in the path of development, they want to raze her place and build high-rise condos Hampilos could not afford.

Filmmaker Christina Eliopoulos, who is Hampilos’ great niece, combined old film of Asbury Park’s boardwalk, stills, home movies and old and original music to tell her story. I was surprised Asbury Park ever looked that good. Eliopoulos obviously has a personal interest, but she tells both sides.

Seeing the spry Hampilos try to get the attention of politicians, who won’t see her or are absent from meetings, makes one wonder how she keeps going. She’s a tough woman but can’t understand how something like this can happen in America.

After a brief run on the festival circuit last year, the film is currently being shown on public television stations in the New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia markets. The trailer can be found here.

Unfortunately, the situation Ms. Hampilos’ finds herself in is sadly typical. Takings generally target lower-income areas, which is intuitive as property values are expected to be lower and more likely to be found “in need” of some sort of economic rehabilitation. According to new research, lower-income property owners tend to be undercompensated with respect to appraised market value more often than their high-income counterparts.  As the enforcement of private property rights is a crucial institutional factor for potential entrepreneurs’ deciding whether to enter or exit the market, profitable opportunities for poorer entrepreneurs decrease disproportionately relative to high- or middle-income entrepreneurs–hardly a good policy to promote wealth creation at the lower end of the income scale. Local officials would be wise to focus more on their areas of expertise—tax policy, infrastructure development, et cetera—rather than involving themselves in the enterprise arena, as they often wind up hurting the very people they claim they’re trying to help.