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Eminent domain case hurts the poor

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Kelo Strikes in Rivera Beach, Fla.

Eminent domain case hurts the poor

The Supreme Court, like DNC Chairman Howard Dean, seems to issue decrees with reckless disregard for people’s safety in Iraq.  He also disregards the fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens by the U.S. Constitution.  

The court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, a case in which Susette Kelo sued New London, Conn., for the right to keep her home from being confiscated for private “economic” development, is proving to be massively short-sighted insofar as the consequences of the decision are proving disastrous.  Much as Dean’s comments aren’t boding well for his 2006 election prospects.

After the Kelo v. New London decision, liberal municipal officials and the New York Times were ecstatic, to say the least.  Both entities said that the decision was a vindication of “local governments’ efforts to ‘revitalize’ their communities.”  Never mind that the decision has proved most disastrous for middle-class and especially poor communities — just as long as we shore up that tax base!  Perhaps the mistresses of local officials should go without that new Mercedes this Christmas.  Nevertheless, the media still allow liberals to perpetuate the self-debunked myth that conservatives only care about themselves.

Michael Brown, the mayor of Rivera Beach, Fla., is about to use eminent domain to take 400 acres of a predominantly black neighborhood to make room for, not Wal-Mart, but a yacht club and a housing development.  

I doubt Viking Properties, chosen by the city council to oversee the development, is going to give these poor residents fair-market replacement value for their homes.  In defense of his actions, Brown stated, “This is a community that’s in dire need of jobs, which has a median income of less than $19,000 a year.  If we don’t use this power, cities will die.” Really?  It seems Mayor Brown is killing the city himself, preferring only rich residents instead of the current ones.

Rather than creating a solution to economic problems that actually helps and includes the pre-existing residents, like so many politicians on both sides often fail to do, Brown has chosen to mask the causes of economic depression in poor, pre-dominantly minority communities. By simply displacing an entire section of town to go live in poverty elsewhere, Brown is simply dismissing the community’s problems by creating superficial solutions, leaving them to be solved by someone else.  Even if the yacht business provides these displaced residents with jobs, I somehow doubt they’ll be high-paying ones that will solve the problem that “median income is only $19,000.”

Officials say that the community proposed for bulldozing is extremely dilapidated and rundown.  What these officials fail to recognize is despite the community’s appearance, it is still called home for many people.  Regardless of your circumstances, where your roots are will always be your home.  Moreover, evicting these residents, regardless of their race, is tantamount to disenfranchising them as property owners and is morally reprehensible.  

A real solution would involve the residents, activists, urban renewal charities and local officials working to address the causes of the economic depression, which could be crime, lack of social structure and supervision, appropriate education or any number of things.  All of the above makes entrepreneurs less inclined to invest in an area.  

If the cause is crime, then we need to address that problem by rooting out influences that invite crime in the area, whether they are bad role models or media that promotes criminal behavior, etc.  An effort should be undertaken by the entire community, municipal officials, charities, everyone to revitalize the neighborhood by helping residents spruce up their homes, making long-needed repairs to their homes so that they can renew the residents’ pride in their community and homeownership.  This will pave the way for the investment in the existing community that will provide jobs for the residents without them having to lose their homes.  Additionally, a renewed interest in their homes and community will allow these residents to rid the area of crime, which in turn will improve the schools and a wide array of other things.

Of course, the trick is getting politicians of all political stripes to stop inventing false problems and solutions, principal among the solutions being welfare and eminent domain, just to satisfy the political status quo.  While Rivera Beach is only a microcosm of a problem, a nationwide discussion involving all members of communities and political life needs to take place to confront fully the causes of poverty among inner-cities and other minority communities, so that we can once and for all stop lying to ourselves as a nation.  The thought that throwing money at a problem will solve it, like Mayor Brown seems to think, is old, outdated, and annoying.

It is time for a new solution that doesn’t involve more of the same.

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Mr. Lewis is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

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