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City Declares Neighborhood ‘Blighted,’ Opening Door to Forced Sales

    Now legal team challenges ‘unconstitutional’ move Economic development changes many things, especially the values of properties. And tha...



Now legal team challenges ‘unconstitutional’ move

Economic development changes many things, especially the values of properties.

And that has become an issue in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where a neighborhood situated next to the “Railroad District” provides housing for many black residents.


It hadn’t gotten much attention over the years. But now, “thanks to revitalization of the city’s nearby downtown, the homes that once were looked over are being eyed for redevelopment,” according to a report from the Institute for Justice.

And to clear the pathway for changes, the city designated the neighborhood as a “blighted” slum.

Without letting property owners, who now are past the deadline to challenge the change, know.

The change is significant because the designation opens the door for the forced sale of homes there.

“Ocean Springs cannot brand neighborhoods as slums in secret,” said IJ Senior Vice President Dana Berliner. “Depriving people of their property rights without any process is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. Ocean Springs should be happy to have such a closely-knit, warm community. It shouldn’t try to destroy it.”

The legal team explained that some property owners, among those “people who inherited homes, business owners, and a church that is a pillar of the black community,” now are working with the institute the challenge the city’s scheme in court.

“Cynthia Fisher has lived in the Railroad District for 70 years. In 1980, she moved around the corner from the home she grew up in and inherited after her mother passed away. That home is now declared blighted. Her daughter lives in the home today and Cynthia has no intention of selling. Yet the blight label could allow the city to force her to sell one day,” the IJ reported.

“This neighborhood means everything to me,” Fisher said. “We’re proud of our neighborhood and while we may not have a lot of money to put in our homes, we keep them well. What the city did, labeling our neighborhood as a slum without telling us, was wrong.”

The lawyers confirmed under Mississippi law, property owners have only 10 days to challenge a blight designation.

“The city made the designations in April, but property owners only began to learn about the labels in August, when the city released a 171-page redevelopment plan on its Facebook page. While the city paused passage of the redevelopment plan after vigorous opposition and said residential property owners could opt out of the plan, there has been no indication that the blight designations would be reconsidered,” the IJ said.

The city’s agenda appears to violate the 14th Amendment, the lawyers charged.

“The government cannot take away life, liberty, or property without a fair and open process,” said IJ attorney Suranjan Sen. “We want to stop what is happening in Ocean Springs, and also ensure that no city in Mississippi can treat property owners like this in the future.”

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