Eminent Domain coming to Charlottesville?

Update: Maybe much ado about nothing – see Mayor Brown’s comment below.
Update 1/18/05: The DP reports that the Bill made it through the subcommittee with amendments clarifying that eminent domain will not be used. Thanks to Waldo, the bills are here (Deeds) and here (Toscano).

Helping to provide affordable housing is one thing, but is this:

“We need to move families out of poverty,” he said. “It is intended for people with low to moderate incomes.”

Government’s place? Personally, I am still not 100% comfortable with this.
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The City of Charlottesville is reaching – reaching for new powers to take property from private individuals for the express reasoning of redistributing that property to others. I almost didn’t believe it until I read it for myself. Four especially troubling paragraphs (bolding mine):

(a)[1] To acquire land or buildings in the city for the purpose of providing housing for low or moderate income persons or for elderly or handicapped persons;

[8] to acquire any dwellings or dwelling units in the city for the purpose of providing housing to low or moderate income persons, and to dispose of such dwellings or dwelling units, by sale or lease, to low or moderate income persons or to a nonprofit organization or limited profit organization which has as its principal purpose the provision or development of housing for low or moderate income persons;

In addition to being able to exercise the above-mentioned powers with city funds, the city is authorized to participate in any state or federal program related thereto and to use state, federal or private funds in the exercise of such powers.

[12] The exercise of any of the powers granted in this section is hereby declared to be a public purpose and public use

First: Government has no business stealing others’ property so that they may repurpose said property. If they want a “dwelling or dwelling unit” they should make an offer and pay for it, same as the rest of us. What is particularly troubling is that this does not even touch the concept of blight, one of the more traditional reasons for stealing an individual’s property.

Ostensibly this Charter Amendment is designed to help the City provide affordable housing. This is the wrong way to achieve such laudable goals.

The definition of “public purpose” seems to be quite broad here. What’s next? Make no mistake; this request does not make exceptions; potentially, as I read it, if you have a property the City thinks would be better used as housing for “low or moderate income persons” or elderly or handicapped, the City wants the right and ability to take it. Thank you, Mr. Schilling, for voting against this proposal. There is a City Council meeting this evening, 17 January.

If the goal is to provide affordable housing, why include handicapped persons? Are they inherently more in need of government assistance (please note the intentional sarcasm in this sentence!)? Or were handicapped persons included so that opposition to this Charter is more difficult to present? (“So, Mr. Opposition, you are saying that you don’t support the poor and the handicapped?”)

The full Charter Amendment can be read at the City’s site (PDF).

I hope that I am wrong about my conclusions and assumptions. If so, please correct me. Please, someone argue for this Charter Amendment; I simply do not understand granting the Government this power that so clearly strips us all of our private property rights.

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PROPOSED CHARTER AMENDMENT FOR CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA (November 21, 2005)

Sec. 50.7. Powers relating to housing and community development.

In addition to the powers granted by other sections of this charter and any other provision of law,
the city shall have the power:

(a)[1] To acquire land or buildings in the city for the purpose of providing housing for low or moderate income persons or for elderly or handicapped persons;

[2] to rehabilitate and dispose of any such land and buildings by lease or sale to low or moderate income persons or elderly or handicapped persons;

[3] to dispose of such land and buildings by lease or sale to any nonprofit or limited profit organization which has as a principal purpose the provision or development of housing for low or moderate income persons or elderly or handicapped persons;

[4] to construct residential buildings in the city for lease or sale to low or moderate income persons or elderly or handicapped persons, or for lease or sale to a nonprofit or limited profit organization which has as its principal purpose the provision or development of housing for low or moderate income persons, or elderly or handicapped persons;

[5] to make grants and loans of funds to low or moderate income persons to aid in the purchase of any land or building in the city including, but not limited to, land and buildings which have been rehabilitated by the city or by a nonprofit or limited profit organization which has its principal purpose the development of housing for low or moderate income persons;

[6] and to offer real estate tax deferrals to low or moderate income persons who own any land or buildings described herein.

(b)[7] To make grants of funds to owners of dwellings or dwelling units in the city for the purpose of subsidizing, in part, the rental payments due and owing to any such owner by a low or moderate income person;

[8] to acquire any dwellings or dwelling units in the city for the purpose of providing housing to low or moderate income persons, and to dispose of such dwellings or dwelling units, by sale or lease, to low or moderate income persons or to a nonprofit organization or limited profit organization which has as its principal purpose the provision or development of housing for low or moderate income persons;

[9] to make grants and loans of funds to low and moderate income persons to aid in the purchase of dwellings or dwelling units in the city;

[10] and to offer real estate tax deferrals to low or moderate income persons who own a dwelling acquired from the city, a nonprofit organization or a limited profit organization under a program established hereunder.

(c)[11] To issue tax-exempt bonds for the acquisition, rehabilitation and provision of housing for low or moderate income persons; provided, that prior to any action authorizing the issuance of such bonds, the city council finds affirmatively that such action is necessary to provide an adequate supply of such housing in the city.

For purposes of this section, the phrase, “low or moderate income persons” shall have the same meaning as the phrase “persons and families of low and moderate income,” as that phrased is used in the Virginia Housing Development Authority Act, and shall be applied using the income guidelines issued by the Virginia Housing Development Authority for use in its single family mortgage loan program.

In addition to being able to exercise the above-mentioned powers with city funds, the city is authorized to participate in any state or federal program related thereto and to use state, federal or private funds in the exercise of such powers.

[12] The exercise of any of the powers granted in this section is hereby declared to be a public purpose and public use

For a bit more reading on redistribution of wealth, read this.

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9 Comments

  1. Chris January 16, 2006 at 12:20

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see a single word in here about eminent domain. It seems like a big leap to me to assume that based on this the city would (or could) start taking private property.

  2. Jim January 16, 2006 at 12:32

    Chris –

    Maybe I read too much into it, but I don’t think so. I see this as granting unwarranted powers to the City government.

    Why do they need a special Amendment in order to purchase property? What prevents them from doing so now? If they are purchasing property from a willing seller, why do they need an additional Amendment?

  3. Ray Hyde January 16, 2006 at 12:47

    Well, there you go. Under growth restrictions the government can stick you with maintaining your land as rural scenery because open space is a public benefit, and then when they decide they want the growth they can take it from you and give it to someone else to develop.

  4. David Brown (Mayor) January 16, 2006 at 13:45

    This bill, to give us more tools to increase affordable housing, does not allow eminent domain for this purpose. In fact, while we are asking for the same authority that the state has given Alexandria, we deleted the references to condemnation contained in the Alexandria charter.

    What this bill would allow is public-private partnerships for affordable housing, and allow us to provide credit (grant) or tax deferral of real estate taxes to low or moderate income homeowners.

  5. Jim January 16, 2006 at 13:55

    Mayor Brown:

    Thank you for the clarification and for taking the time to do so.

    Is the Charter there mainly for the authorization to enter into public-private partnerships? Does the City not have the authority now to purchase property (for this reason)?

    So the City would only purchase properties from willing Sellers and not use eminent domain at all? Great!

  6. TrvlnMn January 17, 2006 at 01:42

    I’m reserving judgement on whether it’s much ado about nothing. I’d like to see an answer to the questions you asked Jim. And I would like to see an explanation of how the changes cannot be used for eminent domain.

    I’m not entirely sure what authority was granted to Alexandria. However, just because something was done in another (politically liberal) part of the state (authority granted, powers given, etc) doesn’t automatically make a thing okay.

    The way it’s written, there seems to be a lot of room for interpretation. While one administration is willing to interpret things one way.. another might not. And I’m not willing to take it on faith that it won’t happen.

    Of course I could be totally wrong about everything.. I’m not any sort of expert.

  7. TrvlnMn January 19, 2006 at 21:03

    Woops!! really messed up the html formatting that time.

  8. TrvlnMn January 19, 2006 at 21:01

    Jim writes:

    Update 1/18/05: The DP reports that the Bill made it through the subcommittee with amendments clarifying that eminent domain will not be used. Thanks to Waldo, the bills are here (Deeds) and here (Toscano).

    Well that’s good. Especially in light of the article in todays Daily Progress titled “City OKs parkway land purchase.” Which not only talks about the Parkway but mentions “the development of a network of connector roads.” Which according to the article is one of the city’s conditions for building the parkway.

    Here’s another notable quote from the article:

    Both the city and county have committed $250,000 for a location study for the Eastern Connector, which would run between Pantops and Rio Road.

    In light of all this it kinda makes sense as to why the city tried to slip broadened eminent domain rules into their charter amendment.

    And as an aside: I’ll betcha that VDOT doesn’t finish any of this nearly as fast as UVA did their road project (granting that there are differences between the two).

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