Misuse Of Eminent Domain Laws Threatens Not Just Homeowners, But Entire Neighborhoods
What would you do if the government wanted to force you out of your home? Would you scurry away in defeat, or would you stand up and fight? Tanya Washington, a Harvard-educated professor at Georgia State University College of Law, chose to fight back. She boldly marched to Atlanta’s City Hall to testify in front of the city council members who authorized eminent domain proceedings that could leave her homeless.
“I live in a beautiful working-class neighborhood. There was flooding in my community in Peoplestown. It only affected half of my street, so my house was fine. Still, the city council and the mayor used this as an excuse to say, ‘We need your house,’” Washington said.
Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agent to seize private property for public use. Homes all over the country are being seized with eminent domain as the justification. There are times when this is necessary; for example, when crumbling infrastructure makes a place unsafe to live. Some home defenders don’t believe this is the only reason eminent domain proceedings occur. People like Tanya Washington believe that it often has more to do with race, class, and gentrification.
“After a three-year battle where I was resisting the mayor and the city of Atlanta, they are trying to take my home. I discovered that after the Atlanta Braves left Turner Field and moved north there were lots of plans for developing the area I live in. They wanted us out so they could move forward with their plans for our block. There were twenty-eight of us living here, and there are five left. When I learned what the city planned to do, I educated myself about how this is happening in cities all over the United States. I want people to know that just because you’re threatened with eminent domain, it doesn’t mean you have no rights,” Washington said.
According to Washington, even engineers hired by the city have said that there is a way to address the flooding without displacing homeowners. However, the city wants to make way for new development, so that option was ignored. No thought was given to the homeowners who have raised families and made memories in the houses that the city plans to take away.
“City officials who I voted for are trying to make me homeless,” Washington said. “I have slept on the steps of City Hall. I testified before them to plead my case. It started out being about my house, but now it’s about people all over the United States who may not know their rights when faced with eminent domain. I want to set a legal precedent to help others. There are often ways to address infrastructure issues and develop areas to welcome new residents with respect to existing homeowners. In my case, the city commissioned a report that said they should address the flooding at the source of the issue, instead of where it pools [on half of her street]. The city said that wasn’t feasible. They want to put a pond where my house is.”
City Hall needs more diverse representation to stop the government from rendering homeless the very citizens it is supposed to protect. To end this practice, people must respond with resistance, litigation, and more diversity among elected officials. Only when there are more women, people of color, and LGBTQ voices in politics will everyone’s needs be heard and their rights respected.
“After challenging City Hall, people kept asking me to run for office. I love being in the classroom and teaching my students about structural equality, and I didn’t feel the need to address things in a political space. However, I could see that there was a need for representation. So I decided to run for city council and make real change. I live in Peoplestown, and I want to fight for the people, for the most vulnerable among us.”
Educating people about housing laws and bringing attention to the alarming trend of citizen displacement is just one aspect of Tanya Washington’s mission to champion the people. She’s a brilliant educator and influencer who used her voice to reach others at the Women’s March in Atlanta.
“When I spoke at the women’s march I realized I was far from alone. Many women were inspired to run for office after the presidential election. Despite our differences, we were unified by a common threat and a common desire to improve our country. Community is a verb. If you want yours to be better you have to speak out, resist, and fight for that change.”
Fear not, Tanya Washington will be fighting beside you. Viva la resistance.