The Edmonton Journal, which is all upset about the police seizing a vehicle under the asset forefeiture act, is all for the City of Edmonton getting powers to seize derelict houses, because property values are falling.
Before going on, I will say in fairness to the City, it does do a lot of things properly. It has a responsive water service, an excellent garabage disposal service, and many other great services etc. And that is where it should keep its focus, i.e. on what it is doing right and work on the other aspects.
Furthermore, my objection to the op-ed is not related to anything specific with current City policies. It is an objection based on two general principles: property rights and the dangers of cities have condemnation powers.
I should note that the op-ed does not seem to indicate that the City is actively pursuing these powers, so again my comments are more aimed at the message of the op-ed and not at any City official.
The excuse of protecting property values is an old one, and it should never be used to justify the state seizing people's property just because they are not satisfying someone's notion of how it should look. Even at common law, pure economic losses are not recoverable in tort (with very narrow exceptions).
Furthermore, and this is my real fear, once a city gets the go-ahead, it will start getting new ideas of urban development. In the United States, because of the weakening of property rights through the Kelo decision, and many other cases before that, cities routinely start seizing properties to make way for development with the pretext of blight.
The worst case took place in Detroit over thirty years ago. There, in order to allow GM to develop a plant in a neighborhood called Poletown, the City of Detroit "relocate[d] the 4,200 people who lived in the area, along with their 1,300 homes, 140 businesses, six churches and one hospital."
We now know what the City of Detroit looks like. Indeed, in many of these places, the blight is taking place because of failed economic policies by politicians, which then encourages municipalities to go in and demolish condemened houses. There have even been attempts by municipalities to use the blight argument to seize houses that have been underwater because of the subprime mortgage meltdown.
Edmonton was never the city of high property values. It is a recent event with the rise in price of oil. The sudden spike in 2006ish has made many looking to their homes as investments and not just as homes. That is fine. But it should not justify the state coming in and taking one's property because it is affecting the property values. Once we go down that path, we start becoming like many American cities with their crazy zoning codes. Our properties will truly skyrocket in price then, but no will be able to live here. In the end, what happens is that people move elsewhere and we are all worse off. Plus, the next dip in the price of oil (shale oil in the Dakotas anyone), and even those who thought their house was their castle may suddenly find the city doing what they are doing now in Detroit and other places.