Eminent domain is picking up traction as a defensive move against the massive foreclosure crisis still affecting communities and families across the country. In response to an effort led by New Jersey Communities United, the Newark City Council just approved a measure that would identify areas in need of redevelopment for possible use of eminent domain measures to assist homeowners with underwater loans. It’s a courageous step that the Newark City Council has taken given the backlash from the mortgage finance world towards Richmond, California regarding a similar effort. This issue could not more clearly represent a Main Street versus Wall Street scenario, but it would be a wasted opportunity if the public conversation stopped at pulling families and individuals out from under water. There are powerful structural reasons our housing market faces boom and bust cycles. The waves created by finance giants in the housing market are inherently volatile, generating whirlpools that bring down individual homeowners and regular storms that bring down whole cities and even countries. The result at the community level is either the drought of blight or the flood of harsh gentrification.
There should be serious questions raised regarding whether we want a volatile and indifferent market to determine the value and stability of our homes. The vast majority of our housing is subject to speculative pressures where financing and resources follow profits rather than needs. The displacement and instability that this generates is far too often inconsistent with recognizing that housing is a basic human right. Serious efforts like those in Newark and Richmond should not begin and end with extending a life raft, but rather catalyze a new conversation on what kind of waters are safe and healthy to house all people in our communities, owners, renters and those experiencing homelessness. For details on the Newark City Council measure read more here.