Kelo and the War Against the Poor
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Kelo v. New London essentially expanded the power of local governments to use eminent domain -- a power the Fifth Amendment reserves for public use -- for economic development.
In Downtown Pittsburgh, this threat has provided property owners a powerful disincentive against making improvements to their buildings, yet these people may be in the best position to convert vacant office and retail space into housing. They could draw on the equity in their buildings, finance without subsidies and charge lower rents. And if a project can't get done without public financing, then it shouldn't get done at all.
We don't need to save Downtown overnight. Its plight is a symptom of the city's decline, not a cause of it. There are a host of other incentives short of subsidies the city could provide to make Downtown housing more affordable to both developers and residents. Free parking for residents would be a good place to start.
Would any of this work? There's no way to know. But we know what doesn't work.
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