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Naked Politicians & Non Profit Prophets
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 speculative use?

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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Copyright (c) 2004 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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