John Stossel

Do you live in a blighted home in a blighted neighborhood? You might without even knowing it.

But don't worry, your local politicians will be happy to tell you -- as soon as some land developer decides your neighborhood would be a great place to build swankier homes or shops.

Don't want to leave your home? Tough luck. Once the politicians, in their superior wisdom, decide that the development project will produce more tax revenue or jobs than you and your neighbors do, you'll have to go. Oh, they'll pay you something for your home, maybe less than it's worth -- but you'll have no right to say no and stay where you are.

That's called progress, and it's how things go in America today. The working class is under threat of expropriation for the benefit of the well off.

Shockingly, last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said that was just fine. (Eminent domain is permitted by the Constitution for "public" uses, such as roads or post offices. Using it for private development is a fairly new practice.) After the public backlash against that ruling, over 20 states restricted the use of eminent domain for private economic development. But the protection of homeowners is less than perfect. There's always an exception for "blighted" neighborhoods.

But blight is in the eye of the beholder, and the judgment of those beholders who wield power counts more than yours.

According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), the public-interest law firm, "the definition of 'blight' has become so broad and unprincipled that governments regularly target perfectly fine homes in ordinary neighborhoods for the wrecking ball. Nice homes with spectacular oceanfront views in vibrant neighborhoods can be condemned for reasons like 'diversity of ownership,' meaning that each home is owned by a separate family -- something that should be a point of pride for Americans rather than an excuse to take what rightfully belongs to a homeowner. If owning your own home means your house is blighted, whose house isn't blighted?" (IJ LINK: http://www.ij.org/private_property/longbranch/backgrounder.html)

IJ lawyers are currently defending property owners in Long Branch, N.J., whose homes are threatened by politicians and developers who want to build expensive condominiums in their place. It's odd that the politicians now call these homes "blighted" because only a few years ago, Mayor Adam Schneider praised the condition of the beachfront homes in the middle-class MTOTSA neighborhood. "If the whole area looked like [MTOTSA], we would not be doing [redevelopment]," said the mayor at the time.

Now, all of a sudden, the area needs to be leveled so developers Applied Companies and Matzel & Mumford can provided badly needed condos for the rich.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate