Tenants to 3CDC: Hell No, We Won’t Go
Metropole Residents Vow to Fight Eviction
By Gregory Flannery
Tenants at the Metropole Apartments downtown took over a Nov. 5 meeting called by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), which has bought the building and plans to force them out.
The takeover, organized by the staff of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and the Metropole Tenants Association, came one day after Cincinnati Police officers prevented the Homeless Coalition from attending a 3CDC meeting with tenants.
Because the Metropole houses low-income people under a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), tenants have a right to have advocates present at meetings with landlords, according to Josh Spring, executive director of the Homeless Coalition.
“Yesterday the police department kept the advocates and the lawyers out,” Spring told the tenants. “The tenants have taken over the meeting now. The truth is you have a legal right to have advocates here, so we are the ones upholding the law. Today it’s a different story. How does it feel to have the power?”
Blocking tenants’ advocates from the earlier meeting is part of a complaint filed with HUD by the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati. The complaint accuses 3CDC of housing discrimination, deception and other violations of law.
The Homeless Coalition has been organizing tenants for three months, warning them that 3CDC planned to buy the building and convert it to a boutique hotel. 3CDC – a non-profit development group partly funded by the city of Cincinnati – acquired the property last week for $6.25 million.
“3CDC has purchased your home and they desire to make your home into hotel rooms for tourists,” Spring said. “They think you don’t fit in with the entertainment district. For three months they asked us not to talk to you, but we did.”
‘How would you like it?’
3CDC had called a tenants’ meeting for 4 p.m. Nov. 5. But at 3 p.m. the Homeless Coalition and the Metropole Tenants Association carefully executed a pre-emptive strike. House rules allow visitors in the Metropole only by invitation of residents. Jeff Eaton, a member of the tenants’ association, told the desk clerk that he had seven visitors: Spring; Rob Goeller, civil-rights coordinator for the Homeless Coalition; Bonnie Neumeier, director of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center; three journalists; and a Legal Aid lawyer.
The group went to the Metropole ballroom, where the activists posted signs listing their demands and arranged chairs in a circle. Dozens of residents began filing into the ballroom – a full hour before 3CDC’s scheduled meeting, an indication that the takeover had been planned in advance.
As the meeting was about to start, a man huddled with Spring and Goeller and asked them to let 3CDC proceed with its own meeting.
“We’ll tell them the information they do need,” the man said.
Spring refused to back down.
“You’ve had plenty of opportunity,” Spring said. “You haven’t talked to the tenants. This is a tenants’ meeting now. You should take the low seat and hear what the tenants have to say.”
“Fine,” the man said. “Then we won’t have a meeting.”
The man walked away. When a reporter asked for his name, the man said, “No.” Asked if he were with Metropole management, the man said, “No.” Asked if he worked for 3CDC, he again said, “No.” Spring later introduced – or outed – him as Adam Gelter, development director for 3CDC.
When the man stalked off, Spring addressed the tenants.
“They want to take your home and turn it into a hotel for tourists,” he said. “They didn’t ask you. Some of you have lived here over 20 years. Do you think that you are cattle to be herded around the city?”
The crowd answered, “No!”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Spring said. “Are you going to fight for your housing?”
“Yes!” the tenants answered.
Several tenants then spoke.
“If we don’t stick up for ourselves, it’s going to affect our lives and other people’s lives,” said Robert Wavra. “A lot of people have used this building to get started or re-started because it didn’t charge a lot for rent.”
Wavra introduced an argument that would be repeated by Spring and the Legal Aid attorneys: 3CDC wants to evict the residents because low-income people don’t fit into 3CDC’s plans for the downtown entertainment district.
“They don’t think you deserve to be close to the bus routes,” Wavra said. “They don’t think you deserve to be close to Fountain Square. We’ve got to stand up for ourselves and for the people coming behind us. If we let this go, it’s gone for good.”
Another resident, Tracy Hall, said the federally subsidized apartments at the Metropole helped her change her life.
“For 12 years I was homeless,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the Metropole, I would not have had a second chance. Yes, there are some stains on the carpet and some things need to be repainted, but big deal. By moving in here, I’ve been able to attend college and get a job and get a second chance.”
Hall addressed a woman from Brickstone Properties, the management company hired by 3CDC to help residents find other housing.
“How would you like it if someone in a jacket came to you and said, ‘You have to move and we’ve been planning it for months,’ ” Hall said.
The Brickstone representative replied, “We’re not putting anyone out on the streets. I’m just here to do a job.”
Like Gelter – the 3CDC employee who denied that he was with 3CDC – the woman wouldn’t give her name.
A Cincinnati Police officer entered the ballroom but didn’t interfere with the meeting. Three police officers were stationed in the lobby and two cops on horseback were in front of the Metropole during the meeting, according to Lynne Ausman, administrative coordinator for the Homeless Coalition.
“3CDC and Brickstone have called the police,” Spring told the tenants. “They’re afraid of you.”
‘You don’t fit’
In the ballroom, the Metropole Tenants Association posted a list of demands for 3CDC:
“1. Renovate our homes here to the same level as your condos.
“2. We will stay a community.
“3. Metropole must stay affordable housing.
“4. Laws must be made to prevent this (loss of affordable housing).”
HUD regulations require relocation assistance from 3CDC now that it has purchased the Metropole. But Spring, Goeller and John Schrider, attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, urged tenants not to move and not to sign any agreements with Brickstone or 3CDC while the HUD complaint is pending. No residents can be forced to move for the next year, the homeless advocates said.
“This is legal advice: Don’t move,” Schrider said. “If you move, you won’t get what you’re entitled to. If you give in to the lies and false promises of the new owners, you’re going to get ripped off. What the owners of this building are trying to do is cleanse downtown of people like you. They want rich white people.”
Schrider’s colleague at Legal Aid, Rickell L. Howard, echoed his assertion: 3CDC wants poor people out of the downtown entertainment district.
“They’re trying to kick you out because of who you are,” Howard said. “They don’t need another hotel downtown. They think you don’t fit.”
After nearly two hours Spring introduced Gelter of 3CDC and Steve Smith of the Model Group – parent company of Brickstone Properties – to the tenants.
“Adam Gelter’s here,” Spring said. “He’s the one who said he didn’t want to listen to you.”
Gelter apologized for “the confusion of the letter” 3CDC had earlier sent tenants.
“We don’t want anyone to move,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to sign anything.”
“You did yesterday!” a man in the crowd yelled.
Other members of the crowd demanded that Gelter and Smith stand in the center of the room so all tenants could hear them. The two men complied.
“We intend to work within the rules,” Smith said. “We will do things as HUD stipulates they must be done.”
But if there were any doubt about 3CDC’s intentions, Smith made them clear. Ignoring the demand that the tenants be allowed to stay, he instead told the tenants something that was never in dispute: No one could force the tenants to stay at the Metropole.
“If people want to move out of the Metropole, that’s their right,” Smith said. “Our job is to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks and become homeless.”
That was a curious assertion by the very company whose job it is to rid the Metropole of its low-income tenants.
Throughout the meeting Bonnie Neumeier, a longtime advocate for homeless people, led tenants in updated versions of traditional civil-rights songs: “The Metropole’s our home. We shall not be moved. … Tenants united, we shall not be moved.”
No one from 3CDC sang along.