Institute for Justice Director of Activism and Coalitions Christina Walsh stands with the mayor of Atlantic City, NJ and a local business owner before attending a March 2008 city council meeting about the condemnation of businesses for the development of a casino.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
Since the Kelo decision in 2005, the Hands Off My Home campaign, through our training, public education, and advocacy, has saved over 16,000 homes and businesses from eminent domain abuse. A key component of the campaign is to provide a unique and principled perspective to legislators at every level of government on how to better protect the property rights of Americans. To date, we have successfully advocated for reform in 43 states.
Institute for Justice Director of Activism and Coalitions Christina Walsh speaking at a rally of concerned citizens in Harlem in September 2008 about the rampant abuse of eminent domain in New York City.
The Hands Off My Home campaign was founded to do what the U.S. Supreme Court failed to do with its ruling in Kelo v. City of New London: protect individual property owners from the use of eminent domain for private-to-private takings. Using a multi-faceted strategy of legislative counseling, grassroots organization, social science research, and media relations, we have been working state-by-state to increase protections for property owners. Listed below are key outcomes since the Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, followed by a list of contributions made by the Hands Off My Home campaign toward these ends.
Key Outcomes through June 30, 2009:
1. Forty-three states have reformed their laws.
Since the Kelo ruling, 43 states have passed new laws aimed at curbing the abuse of eminent domain for private use. Included in these reforms are six constitutional amendments (the strongest protection a state can give its citizens), three citizen initiatives, and 38 statutory reforms. About half of these measures provide strong protection against the abuse of eminent domain, and all represent an improvement over the truly terrible eminent domain laws that were on the books before Kelo. For legislation enacted since Kelo, please click on the following link: http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=119.
2. “Kelo” is a household word.
Although there was growing concern about eminent domain abuse and some awareness among the general public before the Kelo decision, now nearly every reasonably well-informed person in the country knows about the issue. Public opinion polling consistently shows over 80% of Americans opposes using eminent domain for economic development. In a National Constitution Center poll, conducted in August 2008, 87% of respondents said government should not have the power of eminent domain for redevelopment, and 75% opposed government taking private property and handing it over to developer. You can find the results of this and a sampling of other polls conducted since the Kelo decision here: http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=43&Itemid=143.
3. The public backlash has led to a complete “zeitgeist” on the issue.
In the past, public officials, planners, and developers could keep condemnations for private gain under the radar and thus generally get away with the seizure of homes and small businesses. Now, however, as eminent domain supporter John Echeverria laments: “There are an awful lot of developers shying away because they don’t want to get involved in a time-consuming, political mess.” Property law expert Dwight Merriam notes: “The reaction to Kelo has chilled the will of government to use eminent domain for private development.” And even Susan Pruett, who works as general counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association, confessed, “I describe Kelo as the worst case we ever won.”
4. Since Kelo, the Institute for Justice has saved over 16,000 homes and businesses from the threat of eminent domain abuse.
As a result of our outreach and grassroots activism, we have defeated 27 eminent domain projects, participated in 68 situations of eminent domain abuse, formed over two dozen coalitions, held 23 rallies and press conferences, and directly trained 778 activists in the four years since the Kelo decision.
Role of The Hands Off My Home Campaign in achieving the above-listed outcomes:
1. Drafting and making available on our website model language for various types of reform. Included are constitutional amendments, statutory reforms, and local charter provisions and ordinances that state and local officials use to draft their own reform measures.
2. Counseling policymakers and their staff. Members of Congress, legislators in nearly every state, and countless municipal officials contact us for advice and counsel as they consider which reforms to propose for their constituents and how best to word the language. All of this work is done consistently with our 501(c)(3) status. Most recently, our TX chapter worked around the clock to shepherd reform through the state legislature. A strong constitutional amendment, promoted heavily by IJ, was weakened in the final minutes of the legislative session. If it is approved by Texas voters in November, the amendment will require strategic litigation to strengthen its regrettably vague language. We continue to provide policymakers with our meta-studies, our strategic research, and our Perspectives on Eminent Domain Abuse series, all of which have been integral to the passage of strong eminent domain reforms at the state level. Even four years after Kelo, legislators in states that have already improved eminent domain laws still reach out to us in order to help strengthen those laws.
3. Providing testimony and other support for legislative committees. Since the Kelo decision, we have testified at least 50 times before legislative committees in 23 states and in Congress, submitted legislative statements in over a dozen states, and conducted legislative briefings in three states. As recently as September 2008, Activism and Coalitions Director Christina Walsh testified before the New York State Senate against widespread abuse in the state.
4. Engaging property owners and citizen activists in enacting reform. The model language available on our website as well as media training contained in the “Eminent Domain Survival Guide” (see below), enabled several property owners across the country to testify publicly before committees considering reform at both the state and local levels. Citizen groups established with our help, such as the Long Beach Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse, continue to be advocates for reform, even after defeating the project they were formed around. Others, like the citywide coalition New Yorkers Against Eminent Domain Abuse, were formed as a result of individuals from the same state meeting through the IJ activist training conferences described below. These groups all have become part of a network that will lead to further success in neighboring communities.
5. Garnering media attention for individual communities fighting eminent domain abuse, as well as for legislative efforts, as they were being debated and after passage. Since July 2008, the Hands Off My Home campaign, the Castle Coalition, and the Institute for Justice’s eminent domain efforts have been mentioned in more than 500 newspaper and magazine articles, and we have generated coverage by numerous television and radio outlets throughout the country.
6. Publishing a comprehensive “Eminent Domain Survival Guide” and an award-winning companion activist-training DVD. In 2008 we distributed nearly 1,000 copies of the survival guide and DVD. As Cheektowaga homeowner Debbie Kubiak said, “Most impressive of all was the Eminent Domain Survival Guide, which has become a bible to me. Without this, we would have been completely lost during our nine-month fight to stop this madness.” The Survival Guide was available solely online until June 2006, at which time it was released as a fully illustrated booklet. A Spanish version of the “Eminent Domain Survival Guide” was made available online in August 2007 due to the increasing number of eminent domain victims for whom English is not their first language. The Spanish version of the guide has facilitated the expansion of our outreach efforts in predominantly Hispanic communities, such as in Baldwin Park, Ca., where hundreds of homes and locally-owned businesses were saved from the threat of eminent domain abuse by an IJ-formed coalition of property owners.
You can find the online survival guide at http://www.castlecoalition.org/pdf/publications/survival-guide.pdf, and information about the DVD at http://www.notforsalemovie.com.
7. Hosting an award-winning website, www.castlecoalition.org, used by tens of thousands of property owners, legislators, reporters, academics, and policy analysts for up-to-the-minute, one-stop-shopping on eminent domain abuse nationwide. We continue to update the CastleWatch Daily blog frequently so that activists are aware of opportunities for action and so that communities can have their voices heard.
8. Providing more than 25,000 yard signs, posters, stickers, brochures, and other publications to property owners and grassroots activists fighting eminent domain abuse.
9. Holding activist training conferences for property owners. In 2008-2009, we held regional training sessions in New Jersey, California, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and New York; and project-specific training sessions in Indianapolis, Long Beach, Seaside, and Baldwin Park, Ca., and Asbury Park, NJ. In North Long Beach, we trained 37 activists who then formed Long Beach Citizens United Against Eminent Domain Abuse. They have already expanded their membership in the community and begun to push local reform.
Activists who participate in these conferences share the tactics and lessons learned with others in their community, thereby increasing exponentially the impact of this effort. Since the Kelo decision, we have trained individuals representing over 68 abuse situations across the country. So far, 27 of these communities have defeated the proposed projects, ranging from metropolitan areas like Chicago to small towns like Asbury Park, NJ. You can find a full list of successes that have resulted from our involvement here: http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=107
10. Producing social science research and reports to provide substantive support to our arguments. Throughout the public backlash to the Kelo ruling, those who favor eminent domain for private development predicted—and continue to predict—dire consequences from reform for state and local economies: fewer jobs, less development, and lower tax revenues. In January 2009, we released They Want To Erase Us Out: The Faces Of Eminent Domain Abuse In Texas, which chronicles the incredible obstacles faced by business owners and residents in cities across the Lone Star State as they struggle against municipal governments’ plans to seize their private property to make way for private development. Working in conjunction with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, we released this report at the start of Texas’s legislative session and were encouraged to see eminent domain at the forefront of the conversation in the media, in the Legislature, and even in the office of the Governor, who called for a state constitutional amendment to close the loopholes in Texas’s current law.
Additional examples from the past year include three new reports released as part of our Perspectives on Eminent Domain Abuse series, an ongoing IJ project consisting of independently authored reports that examine eminent domain abuse from the vantage point of noted national experts. These reports are designed to counter with hard data the arguments eminent domain proponents typically raise in legislative reform efforts and in the media.
In Baltimore’s Flawed Renaissance: The Failure of Plan-Control-Subsidize Redevelopment, Loyola College Economics Professor Stephen J.K. Walters and graduate Louis Miserendino, closely examines Baltimore’s 50-year failed attempt to bring investment back into the city, finding that Baltimore’s “plan, control and subsidize” doctrine has largely failed due to policies antithetical to an “organic, widely shared and enduring renewal.”
In Simplify, Don’t Subsidize, developer Doug Kaplan details the outrageous bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles small developers often must navigate in order to build private projects, arguing that the amount of paperwork and fees that go along with each of the intricate regulatory steps to build and renovate actually stifles independent efforts to bring economic development to local communities.
And in The Truth About Times Square (discussed below), former chairman and chief executive of New York State’s Urban Development Corporation William J. Stern explains how the use of eminent domain actually caused Times Square to further decline. Only when government got out of the way to let in true private development, he writes, did Times Square grow into the success story that it is today.
You can find the studies at http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=38&Itemid=112.
Over 100 community members and selected officials attended the launch of the New Yorkers Against Eminent Domain in June 2007. The coalition formed earlier that month at the Castle Coalition National Conference in Washington D.C.
Property ownership is the foundation of America’s free-enterprise system. A judicial standard that allows the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one individual to another is a grave threat to fundamental freedoms. But by drawing national attention to the abuse of eminent domain for private gain and by actively combating this practice, IJ and the Castle Coalition are helping to restore a critical component of America’s free-market system so that it can flourish as the Founders intended. Through our rallies, training and workshops, data collection and research projects, as well as information dissemination on the dangerous consequences of public takings for private development, the Castle Coalition works to secure a legal standard where all are equal under the law and competition is free to thrive. We reach out to nontraditional allies and form bonds with groups like the NAACP in our fight to protect all citizens from eminent domain abuse.
INVESTIGATING CAUSES THAT DESTROY OR IMPAIR THE FREE-MARKET SYSTEM
America’s Founders viewed the right to own and use one’s property as an underpinning of the new republic. Indeed, they viewed the right to property as essential to the protection of all other rights. Owning property is at the heart of our free-enterprise system. At IJ, we have seen the horrible intersect between our economic liberty and property rights mission areas. As Ed Osborne in Wilmington, De. discovered, a thriving business can be threatened when a city decides to abuse its powers of eminent domain in such a way that favors one business over another. He worked tirelessly to build his auto repair shop in Wilmington into a successful business. But instead of allowing Ed and other business owners to reap the rewards of their investment, the city of Wilmington threatened to seize their land and hand it over to a private developer who promised more jobs and tax revenue. Hardworking business owners in El Paso, San Diego, Harlem, and Queens are also in danger of losing their properties to private developers. By turning the tide against the use of eminent domain for private gain, we have put America’s free-market system in a much better position to flourish as the Founders intended.
EXPLORE AND DEVELOP MARKET-BASED SOLUTIONS
Part of our work combating eminent domain abuse is to make known to elected officials, planners, and the public at large market-oriented alternatives to economic development. One example is our recent report written by the government official who headed up the redevelopment of Times Square, William J. Stern, who says that the use of eminent domain caused Times Square to further decline. He shows the detriment that heavy-handed government tactics had in redevelopment efforts. Through condemning businesses, mostly good along with a few bad, the city stalled development in Times Square for decades. Only when the government got out of the way of private business did Times Square flourish. The paper can be found at http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1239&Itemid=249.
No one is safe from the threat of eminent domain abuse. Sandra Day O’Connor said it best in her dissenting opinion in Kelo: “Today the Court abandons [a] long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded–i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public–in the process. . . . Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.” The NAACP submitted a “friend of the court” brief for Kelo, saying “This will place the burden of economic development on those least able to bear it, exacting economic, psychic, political, and social costs.” This brief is available at: http://www.ij.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1403&Itemid=165.
We publicize the results and products of the Hands Off My Home campaign through e-mail and fax reports to the media, policy organizations, academics, and our donors. We also provide complete access to all our publications and findings through our websites, www.castlecoalition.org and www.ij.org.
Project Link www.castlecoalition.org
(Check sent: 9/16/2008)
Businesses on El Paso Street in the city’s demolition zone. This area of town serves over ten thousand customers per day, many of whom cross into El Paso from Juarez, Mexico, on a foot bridge immediately to the south. The city calls this area “blighted” despite the fact that it is a thriving hub of activity and commerce.