November 9, 2004: Forget the presidential race. The real news is that in Jersey City, New Jersey, the state's second largest city, a nudist was
elected mayor. Jeremiah Healy faced 10 challengers in the race.
Not an unusually large field in JC, where everybody gets
to be candidate for 15 minutes. But Healy's chances seemed toast
when a nude photo of him surfaced on a website. It wasn't the
classic "pol in the raw with hooker" shot. Healy was in the
raw all alone. Hanging out on his porch. Seemingly drunk as
a skunk. How this picture was obtained remains a mystery. Some
suspect a backer of a rival candidate played paparazzi. If true,
it's too bad another paparazzi didn't get a pic of the perp
slinking around the Healy homestead. Drunk naked people are
a dime a dozen on the Internet, but you don't often get to
see a middle aged pol crawling through someone's shrubbery,
camera in hand.
In 1968, a NYC East Village hippie named Louis Abolofia ran for
president. Abolofia appeared in the nude on his posters: his
campaign slogan was "Vote for Abolofia-- he has nothing to hide".
Though the election was stolen from Abolofia by Nixon and
Abolofia, like Nixon, is deceased, it's good to see his campaign
approach lives. Jeremiah Healy's campaign platform was short on
specifics but he did promise not to lie. If Healy keeps his word
he'll be a revolutionary. Pols from all over will be crawling
through his shrubbery, knives and guns in hand.
Apparently, a goodly number of Jersey City voters either admired
Healy's stamina (the weather was chilly at the time of the photo)
or felt that if someone chooses to sit-- or slump-- on their
porch buck naked it's not a political concern. A person's home,
including their porch, is their castle. To a certain degree.
The U.S. Constitution grants government, be it federal, state
or local, the right of eminent domain. Which is the power to
take private property in the name of the public good, if just
compensation is given. Eminent domain, sometimes called "taking",
has reasonable, traditional uses. Such as clearing land for
schools, roads and waterways. But increasingly, eminent domain is
used as a redevelopment tool, most frequently in urban areas.
The practice has become a hotly contended issue, particularly
because private interests are benefitting from government
"taking". Protests are coming from both the political left and
right. The Institute for Justice, a public interest legal group,
has appealed a Connecticut "taking" to the U. S. Supreme Court
and after the New Year, the court will consider the
constitutionality of condemnation for private redevelopment.
Among the justifications cited for redevelopment "taking" is the
potential for increased local tax revenues and the claim that if
older residential areas are redeveloped, it will counter the lure
of "suburban sprawl". Plus help raise property values in nearby
neighborhoods. Not only do private developers argue thusly, so
do non-profit developers and their related consulting firms and
think tanks. Non-profit development entities partner with local
governments. Some are nationally active: others only serve one
master. Despite the close relationship with government, non-profit development entities exist in a grey area: they aren't
actual government agencies, nor are they subject to the same sort
of oversight. Non-profit development entities are very effective
salesmen for "taking". Non-profit sounds so selfless. Though non-profit development is the mother of all oxymorons: someone always
profits when it comes to real estate. Which may be why corruption
in relation to development deals, is a common theme when public
officials turn crooked.
An 03/01/04 article in Inman News (a real estate industry
publication) described a conference held by the Urban Land
Institute in February. The Urban Land Institute is "a non-profit
education and research institute representing all aspects of land
use and development disciplines". The main conference topic was
the potentially successful market for urban real estate. The
drawback being problems in assembling large parcels of urban
property for redevelopment. Complaints were heard from industry
experts about "high land costs" and "limited supply" and the
"desire by some property owners to hold land indefinitely for
speculative use." In other words, the pesky obstacles posed by
private property owners in land locked markets. But Allan
Mallach, research director of the non-profit National Housing
Institute, had a solution: "There is little doubt that there
is a need for redevelopment in older neighborhoods, and eminent
domain can make that possible." Mallach went on to explain that
"local officials must be able to effectively sell (communicate)
what they are doing to their constituencies...Grand plans are
necessary. But you have to have a process that is meaningful to
the people directly impacted. If you don't have that, the grand
plans are worthless."
Question: Why is the desire by some people to hold their own
land indefinitely for speculative use, worse than the desire
by others to use government power to acquire land cheaply for
Answer: Because the latter are doing it for the public good.
With a grand plan facilitated by an effective sales job.
Who lives in those older neighborhoods in such dire need of
redevelopment? Most typically low income people. Though
governments and non-profit developers always promise that
"affordable" housing is an important part of grand plans, the
number of former residents who remain post plan typically
diminish. And since post plan rents and home prices are generally
higher, low income residents who do remain must be willing to
take some form of subsidization. In the parlance of non-profit
grand planners "affordable" means being dependent on government.
Loss of independence being an affordable price to pay for a slot
on the reservation.
Many homeowners in older urban neighborhoods are themselves
older. Some of the strongest objections to being moved by
eminent domain come from elderly homeowners. Fearing the money
they'll be forced to take for their homes (which will be
appraised by current standards rather than speculative ones) will
buy squat on the housing market elsewhere. Plus their homes are
full of memories. Strange as it may seem in this age of revolving
door real estate, elderly people often feel strongly connected
to their homes. Some don't want to leave no matter the price.
Even if bought on the cheap, acquiring property for redevelopment
takes money. At the Urban Land Institute con fab, some grand
planners expressed concern that municipalities can't afford
to snap up enough land. Though money from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its Community Development
Block Grant program can be used for such purposes, cities have
too many other claims on those funds. Hence "a federally funded
pilot program to cover land assembly and acquisition costs would
be a useful tool."
Federally funded means taxpayer funded. Property "taking" by
non-profit entities means taking money from taxpayers. As said, a
popular justification for "taking" in the name of revitalization
is that the result could boost local revenues and thereby reduce
local taxes. But people who pay local taxes also pay federal
taxes. Whereas non-profit entities pay little or none of either.
The case the Supreme Court will be hearing in the coming
year involves a private development project in New London,
Connecticut: the city is attempting to take properties owned by
several families in order to facilitate expansion by the Pfizer
Drug Company. Claiming the "public good" will be a revitalized
local economy. Should the Supreme Court rule against "taking"
in this case, it's interesting to consider how the decision
might affect non-profit "taking". If the ruling seems only to
apply to private interests, will a rush to become non-profit
ensue? If so, even more non-profit prophets could soon be
enjoying what grand planner Michael Corleone in Godfather II
said the Mafia needed-- real partnership with the government!
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
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