Taken from Student Coalition against Expansion and Gentrification’s website, http://scegblog.wordpress.com/issue-overview/.
A brief overview of the issues at stake:
DISPLACEMENT: Columbia’s own statistics estimate their expansion into Manhattanville will displace almost 3,300 residents, and that’s just within a half-mile of the campus in the next twenty years. While this number alone is cause enough for alarm, we believe this number is vastly underestimated as it does not take into account rent-stabilized units that are now quickly falling out of regulation. Columbia’s plan to build affordable housing units in the area to counter this displacement is also completely inadequate. For example, “affordable” is defined as the median income of the entire metropolitan area (including wealthy Westchester Country and parts of Long Island) not the actual Harlem community.
EMINENT DOMAIN ABUSE: Broadly understood, eminent domain is the power of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent for “public benefit.” In 2005, Columbia sent a letter to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a state development authority that has the power to condemn property for seizure on behalf of private developers, requesting to invoke powers of eminent domain and provided them with $300,000 to cover legal expenses. The ESDC then commissioned a survey to determine if the neighborhood is “blighted” – a precondition invoked to justify eviction via eminent domain. However, Columbia itself owns the vast majority of the surveyed land. Since Columbia has certainly played a role in stifling economic development of the area and has engendered any blight that has occurred there for its own interest, this maneuvering is clearly unjust. Additionally, we believe Columbia’s current plan does not meet the eminent domain criteria of “public benefit.” Columbia is using eminent domain seizure as a threat to get community businesses and residents to accept sub-standard deals.
NO COMMUNITY DEMOCRACY: Columbia’s plan was a done deal before any community review processes took place. At all public hearings, the community voiced massive amounts of testimony against the plan. Almost all the people who testified in favor of the plan were directly employed by the university or had a financial interest in the expansion. Community Board 9 voted against Columbia’s plan 32-2 (after booing University President Bollinger for several minutes) instead approving its own plan for development (called the197-a plan, which prohibits the use of eminent domain) that the University continues to ignore.
Given all these injustices, we are also greatly concerned that Columbia may be seeking STIMULUS FUNDING to move forward. High-level University administrators have made statements in the past expressing their desire to seek such funding. We must refuse to allow public funds to go toward this unjust project that clearly is not being done for public interest. No money for displacement! No money for eviction! No money for ignoring community justice!