Eminent Domain & African Americans is the first in a new series of independently authored reports published by the Institute for Justice, Perspectives on Eminent Domain Abuse, which will examine the different aspects of eminent domain abuse from the vantage point of noted national experts. The release of this inaugural report is particularly timely this month, as millions around the nation learn about African American history.
In this study, Dr. Fullilove, a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University, examines the effects of eminent domain abuse on the African American community. Focusing specifically on the Federal Housing Act (FHA) of 1949, Dr. Fullilove finds that “[b]etween 1949 and 1973 … 2,532 projects were carried out in 992 cities that displaced one million people, two-thirds of them African American,” making blacks “five times more likely to be displaced than they should have been given their numbers in the population.”
Although urban renewal under the FHA was discontinued in 1973, Dr. Fullilove reported “the tools of urban renewal had been honed through 20 years of projects. Politicians and developers found that they could repackage eminent domain and government subsidies in many new ways, facilitating the taking of land for ‘higher uses.’”
Dr. Fullilove shares the story of David Jenkins - who lost his Philadelphia home to urban renewal in the 1950s - to illustrate the devastating impacts of forced displacement. “Within these neighborhoods there existed social, political, cultural, and economic networks that functioned for both individual and common good,” explains Dr. Fullilove. “These networks were the ‘commons’ of the residents, a system of complex relationships, shared activities, and common goals” - the loss of which cannot be replaced or remedied.
“What the government takes from people is not a home, with a small ‘h’, but Home in the largest sense of the word: a place in the world, a community, neighbors and services, a social and cultural milieu, an economic anchor that provides security during the ups and downs of life, a commons that sustains the group by offering shared goods and services,” continues Dr. Fullilove.
“Dr. Fullilove’s pioneering research reinforces the need for state and federal legislative reforms of eminent domain laws,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, which helps homeowners nationwide fight eminent domain abuse. The Castle Coalition is a grassroots organization coordinated by the Institute for Justice, which litigated the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. Anderson said, “Property owners nationwide - particularly minorities, as evidenced by this paper-will remain vulnerable to seizures by tax-hungry governments for land-hungry developers until the use of eminent domain is reined in and limited to only true public uses.”
A recent example of eminent domain targeting African American communities can be found in Riviera Beach, Fla. Despite the state’s new restrictions on eminent domain, city officials are pursuing a plan to remove thousands of mostly low-income, African American residents from their waterfront homes and businesses to make way for a luxury housing and yachting complex. The Institute for Justice is representing property owners there who want to protect their rights and save what rightfully belongs to them.
In addition to her clinical and teaching duties, Dr. Fullilove is the author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It, which takes a powerful look at the effects of urban renewal on African Americans. She coined the term “root shock” to describe the devastating effects of forced displacement.
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