Eminent Domain, Property Rights and Urban Redevelopment

African-Americans in Virginia may have a different take on the issue of eminent domain than the good-government and social-engineering types who have wielded the power over the past 50 years in the name of the “public good.” Interstate highways were built primarily through lower-income neighborhoods, many of them predominantly black. Urban “clearance” projects, too, were concentrated mainly in African-American neighborhoods.

Those projects are almost ancient history now, but ancient history has a way popping up when least expected. In Roanoke, retired dentist Walter Claytor and 17 of his family members recently won a case against the city’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority for, in effect, taking the family’s one-acre lot in the predominantly black Gainsboro neighborhood three decades ago. By holding the threat of eminent domain over the property while never actually condemning it, the Authority rendered the land economically useless.

According to a report in Roanoke.com: “Last month a court-appointed panel determined Claytor and the 17 family members he represents deserve $281,590 as repayment for rent they could have collected during the 20 years the housing authority held the property.”

Joe Waldo, the Claytor family’s attorney, will be one of the speakers addressing the future of eminent domain in Virginia, in the Public Private Partnership Forum later this week. Anyone interested in the protection of property rights, especially those of the poor and powerless, should attend. For the latest update on the conference agenda click here.


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