We often blog about eminent domain in New York and across the country. This week we came across an interesting story about Los Angeles’ Chinatown, where the City council is trying to use eminent domain and COVID-19 funding to ensure that an affordable housing building remains.
What is interesting about this story is that cities have started to use eminent domain more frequently to acquire properties for public/affordable housing. Of course, affordable housing is a valid public use under the eminent domain laws, so this makes perfect sense.
Back to our story: this month, the City council will decide whether to acquire the building known as Hillside Villa through its powers of eminent domain; in order to keep it permanently affordable as public housing. In 2018, a 30-year affordable housing agreement expired at the Villa, and landlord Tom Botz issued a one-year notice to tenants that their rents would rise to market rate. For some residents this could mean a 200% increase. In 2019, L.A. agreed to pay Botz $12.7 million to maintain the Villa’s affordability agreement for another 10 years, but he reneged on the deal.
Los Angeles has a housing crisis. Ananya Roy, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, says L.A. must use eminent domain to beat its housing crisis. The City’s ability to meet its housing goals “will rest on the public acquisition of land and property,” she wrote in an email.
The history of eminent domain in Los Angeles is most remembered by events in the 1950’s, when the City seized properties to build Dodger’s Stadium. The properties, which were designated as public housing, were taken from families in Chavez Ravine to build the stadium.
History is looking to be remade. Councilmember Gil Cedillo first called for the acquisition of the Villa in January via eminent domain, and this month he proposed that the City finance the acquisition with its remaining CARES Act money. Los Angeles received nearly $700 million from the federal government to combat the COVID-19 crisis last spring, and around $43 million remains. ,
The Villa’s market value has been appraised at approximately $46 million. A $46 million acquisition would cost the city approximately $371,000 per unit in the Villa, while construction and development regulations mean new units can cost the city more than $500,000. Even if the money is available, Botz insists the building is not for sale.
Eminent domain has been regularly used to create affordable housing in NYC, and it appears that now L.A. intends to do the same.
As we head into the final days of the year, we couldn’t resist another eminent domain post. It is our passion and we hope that you find the posts as interesting as we do. Today we are writing about an eminent domain public hearing held in Oneida county, related to the downtown Utica hospital project where a three-level parking garage is slated to be built. The new garage structure is intended to be a part of the Mohawk Valley Health System (“MVHS”) hospital building, and to provide parking to those visiting the Adirondack Bank Center and the city court.
Four downtown Utica property owners are fighting back. The owners say that they are defending their assets; and that they have not yet reached a sales agreement with the health system for the to-be-built garage.
Since most of the land required for this project has already been acquired, Oneida County is considering eminent domain as a way to acquire the holdout properties.
Thanks to modern technology, the Oneida County Department of Law held a virtual public hearing to give property owners and local officials an opportunity to publicly comment and make their statements to the County Board of Legislatures.
At that hearing, business owners and local government officials spoke up to state that they do not believe this garage is needed. “It's not at all obvious that it's necessary and I think using eminent domain to seize private property from its citizens for a project that has not been shown to the public to be necessary…[is] extremely inappropriate” said Celeste Friend, Utica Common Councilperson 3rd District.
“Eminent domain should not be used in this case. Private public development took place after the fact eminent domain is being proposed to take private property from individuals who have a right to ownership. In this case the proposed project will not market and if wanted maybe to place in other reasonable locations where other parking garages exist,” said Timothy Julian, Oneida County Board of Legislatures reading a statement from Utica Common Council President, Michael Galime who could not attend Wednesday night’s meeting.
Katie Aiello, owner of Character Coffee says, “It appears that these parking spots for service parking is already sufficient. Eminent domain is theft.”
Clearly, this hospital project is not very popular with the local community. In 2019, the #nohospitaldowntown group and the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica filed a lawsuit against the city and MVHS to stop construction of the new hospital. That lawsuit was dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court. According to health officials, the construction of the MVHS hospital is expected to be completed by May of 2023. As for the construction of the garage, well that remains to be seen.
As always, we will keep you posted as to any new eminent domain news that comes along. In the meantime, have a safe and Happy Holiday Season and a Happy and Healthy New Year!
We covered this news a few weeks back, and as promised, here is an update. An appeals court has decided to pause relocation of homeless men staying at the Upper West Side Lucerne Hotel that were slated to move to the Financial District (FiDi).
Downtown New Yorkers, Inc., made up of a group of FiDi residents and businesses, filed suit to block the forced relocation of some 200 homeless men residing at the Lucerne Hotel shelter to a Radisson hotel in their area. Back in October, three homeless men living at the Lucerne won a bid to stall their move. Then on Monday, November 30th, a judge gave the go ahead for the move to relocate. Those plans were halted on December 3rd with a new ruling.
Things are in a holding pattern until a five-judge panel has the chance to hear the case later this month. It’s hoped that the panel will eventually issue a ruling. First Department, Appellate Division Judge Anil Singh Thursday granted a bid by the Downtown New Yorkers, Inc.’s and the three homeless for the temporary pause. In the meantime, two of the men have since been placed in permanent housing. Michael Hiller, who represented the three homeless men in the case, said, “They will remain at the Lucerne until further notice.”
“We are extremely gratified that the court recognized the seriousness of this situation and the potential harm a move will cause to both the homeless men and the Lower Manhattan neighborhood,” said Theresa Vitug of Downtown New Yorkers. “To issue this stay, the court had to conclude that there is a likelihood that we will win the appeal on the merits.” A spokesman with the city Law Department said, “The City has a moral and legal obligation to provide safe shelter to all who need it.
More opinions are being reported on the matter. WestCo, a group of Upper West Siders supports the city’s plan to move the men to the FiDi, is appealing a ruling to intervene in the case. The group believes that the move to FiDi is in the best interests of the men at the Lucerne and feel confident that the original court ruling for the move will remain. Megan Martin with WestCo said in a statement, “It is unfortunate that the access to individual rooms and onsite services, resources that do not exist at the Lucerne, is yet again delayed. But we remain optimistic about the appeal, and we await a resolution that is best for this community and the unhoused men.”
We are sure to be back with more news on this topic. So, stay tuned!