PART I: INTRODUCTION
Most state legislatures have enacted statutes that permit governmental entities to redevelop blighted areas. In order to carry out the redevelopment, many of these urban renewal statutes permit governmental entities to condemn property in a “blighted area” and transfer thecondemned property to another private party. Thus, the definition of the term “blighted area” plays an essential role. It establishes the criteria and conditions that must be present in an area before the government may condemn property located within the area. If the area cannot beconsidered a “blighted area,” as the term is defined in the applicable urban renewal statute, thenthe government cannot condemn property in that area.Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in
Kelo v. City of New London,
manystate legislatures have considered proposals to amend their urban renewal statutes in order tolimit government’s ability to condemn property for redevelopment. These reforms tend to focuson expressly prohibiting government from condemning property for certain purposes such aseconomic development or to increase the tax base, or in many instances, prohibiting thesubsequent transfer of property to private entities.
In so doing, the proposed reforms overlook an important initial question: Which properties areeligible for condemnation? In other words, what areas can be considered “blighted areas”? If the state has a broad definition of “blighted area,” the government may ultimately have theability to condemn a large area and transfer that area to a private party to carry out theredevelopment. Thus, if the goal of reformers is to limit the government’s ability to condemn property, it is important to understand how the blight definitions came into being and the variouscomponents of these definitions.However, in reviewing these proposed reforms, it is also necessary to ensure that thegovernment’s ability to condemn property for
purposes, such as for schools or roads, be maintained, lest government not be able to perform its essential functions. Accordingly,drafters of proposed legislation must be careful to walk a fine line between leaving in placeoverly broad definitions of blight that hinder the intent of the reform, and adopting overlyrestrictive definitions of public use that hinder the government’s ability to counter the causes and effects of blight.This Report attempts to provide the background information necessary to analyze theseapproaches to eminent domain reform and the inclusion of blight issues in that reform. Part II of this Report discusses the origin of the blight statutes in America, which is an important part of the analysis. Part III of this Report analyzes the blight statutes in all 50 states, in an attempt toextract the commonalities and distinctions between them. Finally, Part IV of this Report bringsthis data together to summarize the status of blight in America.