Watch the backdoor

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It’s not only Hill District residents with cause for alarm (“Hill District Residents Criticize Land Banks: Idea Called Attempt to Assist the Wealthy,” March 26). Land bank legislation can be a backdoor, Trojan horse, kinder and gentler term for city-sanctioned eminent domain. Eminent domain, the government power to take private property for public use, was meant to be limited (in part by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution) to projects yielding public — not private — economic and other benefits, such as transportation rights of way and for public safety concerns.

Recently, private developers nationwide are influencing legislators to taint the intent of eminent domain for private economic gain at the cost of public well-being and citizens’ pursuit of safe, affordable housing in a city still touted as having a low cost of living.

While new housing construction within city limits should be encouraged to grow both the population and tax base, lately most capital-intensive, land-gobbling residential projects have been “luxury” apartments and condos (e.g., Walnut Capital’s Bakery Square 2.0; the Strip’s Cork Factory Lofts; Squirrel Hill’s Summerset at Frick Park). Apartment monthly rents often start around $1,000, a range simply unaffordable to a senior on a fixed income and working middle- to low-middle-class singles earning less than $30,000 to $40,000 per year — particularly those just out of college, saddled with loan payments.

If local leadership fails to protect our interests, citizens must fight back and must know that they can win. In 2003, among scores of examples across the United States, Lakewood, Ohio, tried to abuse eminent domain to seize a neighborhood of more than 50 occupied middle-class homes to let a developer build luxury condos and high-end shopping. In 2004, after homeowner protests, a fictitious “blighted” label slapped on the neighborhood to ease eminent domain seizure was retracted and legal proceedings dismissed in the homeowners’ favor.

ELLEN CONSER
North Point Breeze


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