The Myth and Reality of Eminent Domain for Economic Development
Jerold S. Kayden, professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, tackles the question of just how often local governments in the United States exercise their eminent domain power to condemn private property for economic development purposes. In view of the controversy generated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), Kayden asked whether the public outcry reflected a legitimate concern over government abuse of eminent domain power or was simply a strategy used by private property rights advocates to challenge planning.
A survey of officials in 153 municipalities with population of greater than 100,000 residents sought to determine the frequency of the actual use of eminent domain for economic development purposes between January 2000 and December 2004. Pending eminent domain cases and the threat of expropriation were not counted in the survey. The measurement unit was the number of properties taken by local governments. The results showed that about one-quarter of the cities in the sample reported takings during the study period. A total of 207 properties were taken, an average of less than two properties per city in five years. Kayden concludes that state condemnation of private property for promoting economic growth is uncommon in the United States.
This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s annual Land Policy Conference in 2008 and is Chapter 8 of the book Property Rights and Land Policies.