Lowballing African-American Farmers in a $5.6 Billion Project

A largely rural African-American farming region in western Tennessee is subject to condemnations for a series of road connections and widenings that will link a 4,100-acre Blue Oval Ford campus to a new Exit 39 off of I-40 to accommodate throngs of workers and truck traffic.  Ford Motor Company broke ground on its future $5.6 billion electric truck plant a year ago.

The state is seeking 35 separate tracts of land by purchase or eminent domain.  Thus far the state has taken possession of 15 tracts.  The path of the new road will require eminent domain through predominately Black-owned farms.  Farms which have been owned by families since the Civil War.

The Ford plant is expected to employ 6,000 workers at the plant and indirectly add more than 25,000 jobs to local communities.  The state has pledged nearly $1 billion in taxpayer incentives – including funding for infrastructure that includes the I-40 interchange – in order to lure Ford’s investment to the area.

Late last month, Gov. Bill Lee made a public appearance at a celebration event on the six-square-mile construction site to mark the one-year anniversary of breaking ground.

“With the single largest investment in state history, this historic project brings thousands of jobs and new opportunities for Tennessee families to thrive,” Lee said.

Ray Jones, a retired school teacher who now directs the Boys & Girls Club of Brownsville, said he welcomed the Ford plant, but feels his family is being treated unfairly.  Jones was served with an eminent domain lawsuit in February, seeking acquisition of an acre of land for $8,165, court records show.

The new interchange being planned will run straight over a natural mineral spring that has been continuously bubbling on an acre of land passed down in the Jones family since its discovery nearly 100 years ago.

In the spring’s heyday in the 1950s and 60s, word of the silty water’s healing properties drew visitors from around the country, newspaper clippings kept by the Jones family show.  Visitors would pay a quarter to fill up a jog; doctor’s provided testimonials of the water’s healing properties on their patients.

The property owners have alleged that the state has woefully lowballed its offers of compensation.

We have previously wrote of racial bias in valuation of Black-owned real property, “Diversity is Needed To End Racial Bias In Home Appraisals,” NYLJ December 27, 2022.

We stated, the answer to appraisal bias on racial grounds is to expand opportunities for Black real estate professionals.  In a statement issued on September 20, 2020, the Appraisal Institute, the largest professional association of real estate appraisers reiterated its efforts to expand opportunities for aspiring appraisers to help combat bias in valuation.

Less than 2 percent of appraisers identify as Black.  The appraisal industry has kept a very guarded gate for entrants.  This is largely based on an apprenticeship model that requires anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 hours of work under a supervising appraiser to become certified.

The appraisal industry is one of the last remaining fields that relies on the apprenticeship model.  Racially based appraisal bias is a well-documented and pervasive issue that has long contributed to the widening wealth gap for Black families, and much of it has been driven by “historical racialized appraisals that influence contemporary values and appraisers’ racialized assumptions about neighborhoods to drive appraisal method,” according to a study published in the journal Social Problems.

Posted in Eminent Domain, Just Compensation, Lowball Offers
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