They say bad news comes in threes. Last week proved that true, at least in the battle over eminent domain in New Jersey:
- Last week was the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision giving municipalities virtual carte blanche to condemn homes of the less-affluent for private redevelopment projects. And in a report issued to mark that anniversary, New Jersey ranked fourth in the nation in the number of private properties slated to be condemned for bigger and better ratables, with 611 properties in question, according to the Institute for Justice, a group that represents homeowners in eminent-domain disputes.
- A Superior Court judge on Thursday ruled against Long Branch homeowners who are being forced out of their homes so a private developer can build expensive condominiums. Long Branch is a poster child for how eminent domain should not be used to force poorer people off their valuable land near the water so housing for the wealthy can be built. Take a look at some of the small but tidy homes targeted in Long Branch, and a reasonable person would not say they are “blighted,” just modest.
- The state Assembly passed a woefully deficient eminent—domain bill that is backed by builders and municipalities. The bill would tighten eminent-domain use, to be sure. But it leaves gaping holes in reform and is considered much weaker than a reform bill passed by neighboring Pennsylvania.
The Institute for Justice points out that the bill still contains vague terms for describing the conditions that must be met for eminent domain to be used for redevelopment — terms such as “obsolescent.” Some say that “obsolescent” could even be construed to mean a home without two bathrooms.
And while the bill does provide for better notification and better compensation for homeowners, it does not assure they will be able to move back to their old neighborhoods.
Most importantly, it fails to deal with a pay-to-play ban that would end the ability of developers to shovel campaign contributions to municipal officials, who then can award the developer lucrative redevelopment rights — complete with tax breaks and the ability to condemn homes. The state Senate must correct these errors. The public wants true reform that will end eminent-domain abuses — not a watered-down bill that gives lawmakers political cover without dealing comprehensively with the issue.
The Press of Atlantic City: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com