Staunton Eminent Domain: WHSV-TV3, Harrisonburg VA, 1/25/07

By Kelly Creswell

The city received a federal grant to build low to moderate income housing in a Staunton neighborhood. But property owner Gerard LaBrecque bought a rundown house so he could fix it up and rent it out to low-income housing families. Now LaBrecque may be losing more than just his house. Gerard LaBrecque says this ongoing battle with the city to find a way to house low-income folks forced him to stop construction on a duplex intended for that very same reason.

"But there's some poor people on those streets around my duplex, that got left in the dust a long time ago and we're not even talking about them," says LaBrecque.

LaBrecque received a building permit from the city to refurbish the property. But when the city received federal funding for the community LaBrecque says the city made some strange moves.

"To receive me into the grant and then to mysteriously unreceive me is somewhat of a red flag, and to want to build a huge house in replacement for something affordable, just seems immoral... If not illegal," says LaBrecque.

The city manager says the grant allowed private property owners to restore their properties and make them available for low to moderate income housing.

"The inspection that was conducted through HUD and the CGBD program showed that his property was so badly deteriorated that it did not meet the requirements to be included," says Jim Halasz, the City Manager.

Despite the constant battle of the property, LaBrecque says that's not the only thing he is fighting for.

"It's not just about the money, it's fighting for a better way of living and fighting greed so that it doesn't destroy us all," says LaBrecque.

As the situation stands right now, the city manager tells me LaBrecque has one last chance to hire an appraiser to give the city a final estimate on the property. If the city doesn't accept it, this will go to court.

WHSV-TV3, Harrisonburg VA: http://www.whsv.com