Article from Reason by Eric Boehm.

When Don Walko’s anti-blight bill passed in Pennsylvania 11 years ago, the legislator sold it as a way to clean up run-down and abandoned properties. But now economic development nonprofits are using it to evict residents from their homes—often without due process and sometimes without the homeowners finding out until it’s too late to stop the seizure.

Earlier this week, Kate Giammarise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettereported the heart-wrenching story of a family in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, who learned they were being kicked out of their home because it had been claimed by a “conservatorship.” Under a state law passed in 2008, individuals and nonprofits are able to petition a special court for permission to be named as a “conservator” of blighted properties—effectively trampling on the property rights of the homeowners, like Shakeea Washington and Wayne Little, who only learned they were being kicked off their own land when a notice appeared on their front door.

Washington and Little are now suing in federal court, claiming the law does not provide sufficient due process for property owners. It sure seems like they have a point. To be granted conservatorship over a property, a would-be conservator has to show a judge that the property is “vacant, dilapidated, or harmful to the community,” writesGiammarise. Those vague standards—espescially the last one—seem to invite abuses, and quasi-governmental economic development nonprofits appear to be making liberal use of the law. More than 60 conservatorship cases are pending in Allegheny County, includes the City of Pittsburgh and its suburbs, such as McKeesport.

One more thing: the former state representative who drafted the law is now a judge, and he hears a lot of those Pittsburgh-area cases. When the law was passed, Walko told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “We are telling people, ‘Your right to private ownership ends when you let it become abandoned, blighted and rat-infested.’ We will err on the side of the neighborhood.” Not exactly the sort of impartial perspective you hope to hear from the guy deciding whether you get to keep your home.

Read the entire article at Reason.

Image Credit: By St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons