It was announced today that the U.S. Supreme Court will not take up a challenge to the Empire State Development Corporation’s property takings in Manhattan’s West Harlem neighborhood. The notorious ESDC, also responsible for the Atlantic Yards land grab in Brooklyn, wishes to seize property near Columbia University in order to allow the university’s planned expansion to move forward. Standing in the way are several small businesses, who object to their properties being included in ESDC’s area blight condemnation.
New York State, which has one of the worst eminent domain statutes in the nation, has long abused the broad blight standard established in Berman. Area blight condemnations allow a government agency, or a public corporation authorized by a state or municipality, to declare private property “blighted” even when the parcels in question are not themselves blighted. This puts lower- to middle-income urban entrepreneurs and homeowners at a significant disadvantage, as they often live or operate in neighborhoods with some abandoned or dilapidated property.
Earlier this year, I argued in my paper, “This Land Ain’t your Land; this Land Is my Land: A Primer on Eminent Domain, Redevelopment, and Entrepreneurship,” that the present legal landscape is incredibly biased against lower-income entrepreneurs and households, and that local officials’ ongoing drive for “urban redevelopment” often results in killing off wealth creation and job opportunities for the very people most sensitive to changes in the real estate market: the urban poor.
Image credit: wallyg’s flickr photostream.