Thursday, August 18, 2005


Serfin' USA: The Right's Phony Rhetoric on the Takings Clause

You've heard the story. A Connecticut town decides it wants land for a project. The landowners disagree that the city has the right to do so and argues its case in court. The courts say, after five years of procrastination, that the city can do this, as long as it compensates the landowners. So far, there's nothing out of the ordinary. But today, via Atrios and Max Sawicky, we learn of a small outrage and a large one. The small outrage is that the city doesn't want to pay what the land is presently worth: "The New London Development Corp., the semi-public organization hired by the city to facilitate the deal, is offering residents the market rate as it was in 2000, as state law requires. That rate pales in comparison to what the units are now worth, owing largely to the relentless housing bubble that has yet to burst." So, in other words, homeowners could be reduced to homelessness through an accounting gimmick. That's bad, but that's not the worst: "NLDC sent the seven affected residents a letter indicating that after the completion of the case, the city would expect to receive retroactive "use and occupancy" payments (also known as "rent") from the residents. In the letter, lawyers argued that because the takeover took place in 2000, the residents had been living on city property for nearly five years, and would therefore owe rent for the duration of their stay at the close of the trial. An NLDC estimate assessed Dery for $6,100 per month since the takeover, a debt of more than $300K. One of his neighbors, case namesake Susette Kelo, who owns a single-family house with her husband, learned she would owe in the ballpark of 57 grand. "I'd leave here broke," says Kelo. "I wouldn't have a home or any money to get one. I could probably get a large-size refrigerator box and live under the bridge." " And this does not even account for these people's legal bills! This is a coldblooded attempt to financially destroy people who were law abiding and used the courts to argue their case. It is an attempt to reduce them to the status of serfs for having dared to try to defend their rights. Why should people use the courts and try to abide by the law if the result is that they are destroyed? Why should they not take the law into their own hands, if the game is so outrageously rigged? I'm not recommending it. But remembering Shay's Rebellion, which happened just a little way up the Connecticut from New London, I am asking. Sawicky has links to register a protest.
I read the NDLC's response, and it'd be the most hilarious thing ever if it weren't for the fact that people are being bankrupted by being charged rent retroactively and illegally.

What makes it so hilarious? That the NDLC, in page after page of goopy, self-pitying, Bizarro World verbiage, carefully avoids mentioning the fact that they're bankrupting the KELO Seven by charging them retroactive rent to live in their own homes.

Like I said: A real laff riot, except for the fact that people are being ruined because they dared exercise their rights as citizens.

In the comments section of MaxSpeak, ChicagoBob suggests making it illegal to do takings of private land to benefit private (non-public) entities. This preserves the original intent of eminent domain, while making it harder for greedy municipalities to abuse the concept.
This process shouldn't be referred to as takings. That makes it sound bad. Wouldn't it be a little more accurate, and a little sweeter, to just refer to this as Aryanization?
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