Black residents in South Carolina could be in trouble of losing their homes as the state plans to widen a freeway interchange to help alleviate highway congestion in the area. The $3 billion proposed plan would destroy 33 single-family homes, four apartment buildings with at least 35 units, 11 mobile homes, eight duplexes, two community centers, and at least one church. 94% of the residents in this area of North Charleston are black and brown people and many residents are worried about losing their homes.
The proposed highway expansion would widen both interchange I-26 and I-526, which sit between Liberty Park and Highland Terrace. Both interchanges are highly congested and city officials say the project must be done. As the surrounding counties continue to grow the highways can not handle the sheer amount of daily traffic. The population in these surrounding counties has doubled since the 1960’s. Many residents of color say they haven’t been properly informed of their options and have no plan if they are kicked out of their homes.
The first interchange expansion project was proposed in 2010. In 2019 the state proposed a second project, which would allow work to be done on both highway interchanges simultaneously. Environmental groups immediately pushed back saying it infringed on the rights of citizens in black and brown communities. The state took note and promised to add a provision that would benefit residents who might have to leave their homes due to the project. The state plans to build 100 units of affordable housing, and offer financial counseling for new homeowners. They also plan to build a walkway bridge to navigate over the highway by foot and add parks to the area with better lighting. The improvements will come with a price tag of around $100 million.
The Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which is awaiting a House vote, includes provisions to help communities of color that were disproportionately affected by decades of infrastructure plans created to harm black families. During the expansion of America between 1930 and 1950, freeways, dams, landfills, and power plants were strategically built on top of black communities to keep whites separated. This practice was called “sacrifice communities.” But how was this legal and is it still legal today? The short answer is, yes; eminent domain.
What is eminent domain ?
State and local governments can seize land own by private citizens through a law called eminent domain. Eminent domain is the right of a government to take private property for public use. It can be used by both federal and state governments but is most often seen in situations where the government wants to build on or near land that was not originally theirs. Eminent domain allows them to do so without compensating the original owner, although most eminent domain proposals come with some type of compensation offer, rarely close to the amount your home or land is worth.