Homeownership is a Right, Not a Privilege

July 19, 2005

One of our most basic rights as American citizens is the opportunity to own a home. Purchasing an existing home or buying land on which to construct a house is one of the many reasons the United States is arguably the best country in the world. There is little that can compare to the pride and sense of self-accomplishment of owning a home, and no one should have the right to take that away especially by our own government.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with me because, in late June, the justices made a ruling that changes the face of homeownership in America. The decision, with its all-but-conclusive vote of 5-4, expands the authority of municipal governments to exercise the right of eminent domain and broadens the definition of "public good."

Eminent domain, the right of government to take or authorize the taking of privately owned property for public good or use, has long been a hot issue in our country. Government, whether it is federal, state or local, would claim eminent domain, for example, when a road must be built through privately owned property, or a school or park is needed. The property owner, in turn, is to receive equitable (just) compensation for the value of the land. "Public good" has become an equivocal term because it has relied on court interpretation of what that phrase really means. Through its June ruling in Kelo, et. al. v. City of New London, the justices once again expanded the meaning of public good to include increased revenues for municipalities. The door has been opened to allow government to remove property from its rightful owners and put it in the hands of private developers or others who may or may not create activities that would produce more revenue than could be generated by the original property owner.

The real issue in this case is the right of citizens to reside in their homes and own land without fear of being forced to surrender their properties. Fifteen citizens of New London, Conn., residents who are directly affected by the court’s ruling, are being forced to vacate their homes. All of the houses are reported to be in good condition, and most are occupied by their owners or owners’ family members.

I have real concerns with the justices’ recent interpretation.

If government can take the properties of the New London residents for the public good, and the meaning of public good is debatable at best, can I expect government officials to come knocking on my door next?

I believe that the practice of taking property from ordinary citizens and creating more opportunities for this nation’s most wealthy and powerful people and corporations must be stopped at the state level.

Unless the eminent domain policy is reined in quickly, none of us will be safe from those who would utilize government’s need for tax dollars to seize our homes and property.

We, as citizens, must unite to stop this atrocity before it gets worse. As a New York legislator, I will work to correct this injustice at the state level by introducing or supporting legislation that would protect our homeowners, not deprive them of their rights.

I support improving our communities, and I’m certainly in favor of economic development, but I am here first for our residents of New York. I’m also a proponent for the rights afforded us in our state and national constitutions, and I don’t believe it’s the right of government to tell us that we must vacate our homes or businesses because we will not generate as much revenue for the municipality as might be made from some other private entity.

I firmly believe that it is my obligation as your representative to protect your rights to your land and homes. This expanded policy of eminent domain cannot stand when so many have worked so hard to accomplish the American dream of home ownership.