Ruling on Property Rights Could Create Housing Crisis, Group Warns

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - A conservative group is warning that the Supreme Court's "abusive" ruling allowing government to seize private property for purposes of economic development could lead to an urban housing shortage for minorities, the poor and young families.

The black leadership network Project 21 said it's a rare day when the NAACP finds itself agreeing with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- but that's what happened after last week's ruling in Kelo v. City of New London.

"If even they (NAACP and Thomas) can agree on the importance of private property protections, it's utterly astonishing to me that others can so blatantly put so many at risk to favor wealthy private interests," said Project 21 member Mychal Massie.

Like many other property rights advocates, Project 21 noted that until now, the government's eminent domain powers have been reserved for public projects such as road-building, parks and the development of public entities such as hospitals.

But in the Kelo ruling, the Supreme Court said it's okay for city officials to use their power of eminent domain to evict New London, Conn., homeowners -- some of whom lived in the disputed neighborhood for over 70 years. The 90 acres of land was given to the Pfizer pharmaceutical company for a research facility.

In his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote: "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long-accepted function of government."

But in her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist) wrote: "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private property, 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."

In his separate dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the decision would likely result in new urban renewal projects that tend to displace minorities, the elderly and the poor.

In fact, Project 21 noted that Washington, D.C., Myor Anthony Williams (who praised the Kelo decision) is expected to evict small businesses and homeowners later this year to build a new, privately-held baseball stadium.

Linked with anti-development "smart growth" building restrictions, the new eminent domain powers endorsed by the Kelo decision could end up boosting demand for housing in restricted markets, potentially creating a housing crisis, Project 21 said in a press release.

"Without question, this is the most abusive act of government aided and abetted by the Supreme Court in the history of our republic," said Massie. "The bedrock of a free republic is the ability of its citizens to own property without fear of government seizure or constraint.

"With this ruling, our citizenry has been rendered vulnerable."

Project 21, which describes itself as a leading voice in the black community since 1992, is part of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.