3CDC Accused of Racial Conspiracy

Metropole tenants sue to stop eviction
By Corey Gibson

Attorney Terence Brennan says 3CDC is segregating downtown. Photo by Bradley R. Foster.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is using strong-arm tactics to force people from the Metropole Apartments, according to a civil-rights lawsuit filed Aug. 18 in federal court.
The complaint by the Metropole Tenants Association alleges 3CDC used Cincinnati Police officers to harass and intimidate residents. The complaint also alleges that the sale of the subsidized low-income apartment building was deceptively conducted, violates federal housing law and will promote racial segregation.
Defendants in the suit include 3CDC, the city of Cincinnati, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the new management of the Metropole Apartments. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are Terence Brennan and Jennifer Kinsley.
The Metropole Apartments are a racially integrated housing complex. Approximately 60 percent of the tenants are African Americans, a majority of whom are elderly or disabled. The 230-unit building, whose tenants receive federal Section 8 assistance with rent, has been one of the only affordable housing projects in the downtown area since 1971.
The Metropole offers the only racially integrated low-income housing downtown, yet residents are being forced out to make way for a chic, up-scale hotel.
Downtown is one of only three communities in Hamilton County that has been racially integrated for over 30 years, according to the lawsuit. Yet for the past 10 years 3CDC, HUD and the city “have actively and deliberately sought to dismantle, displace or eliminate affordable housing from downtown Cincinnati,” the lawsuit says.
‘Racial steering’
The Metropole Apartments meet a critical need for low-income housing downtown, according to the lawsuit. That is one of several reasons the sale of the building should be stopped, Brennan says.
“Federal law requires that they not allow conversion of housing that is subsidized by a HUD-backed mortgage, which the Metropole was, when there is still a need for low income affordable housing in the area,” he says. “The city and any number of entities in this case have actually documented there is a need for HUD’s permission. To allow these developers to go forward the way they have is a violation of the national housing law.”
Congress passed the National Housing Act of 1937 “to remedy … the acute shortage of decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings for low-income families.” Yet 3CDC, HUD and the city of Cincinnati are trying to get rid of the last affordable housing in the downtown area, according to the complaint. Congress has also stated that the national housing policy has “not directed sufficient attention and resources to preservation of existing housing and neighborhoods” and that, if the national housing goal of a decent home and suitable living environment for every family is to be achieved, “a greater effort must be made to encourage the preservation of existing housing and neighborhoods.”
Congress has also stated that HUD, local governments that receive federal aid and private developers must promote housing that furthers racial integration – the opposite of what will result from the loss of the Metropole Apartments.
On May 26, 2009, the owners of the Metropole, Showe Builders Inc., sold the building to 3CDC for $6.25 million. 3CDC plans to convert the apartments into a boutique hotel with a restaurant and modern art museum, a project that will cost an estimated $48 million. Two months after the sale, tenants received a letter from Showe Builders saying they should not worry about false information claiming the owners were “negotiating for a possible sale of the building.” The letter also said the tenants would “receive at least a one-year notice in writing” if the sale were approved. The tenants were lied to and kept in the dark about the sale of their homes, according to the lawsuit. The tenants received no notice of the sale until after it had been finalized.
HUD approved the sale of the building, the transfer of its housing-assistance contract and a relocation plan for the residents without a hearing to allow for tenants’ input. HUD also failed to conduct any type of analysis on whether granting the approval would have an adverse effect on the racial integration or on people with disabilities or hinder fair-housing opportunities in the city. By approving the sale of the Metropole and not conducting any analysis on the outcome of the sale, HUD is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act, Brennan says.
The Fair Housing Act requires HUD to prevent the sale of property if it promotes racial segregation. But HUD has allowed 3CDC to displace the tenants of the Metropole for the sole purpose of building a hotel that will allegedly promote racial segregation.
“The relocation plan that has been put in place is change tantamount to racial steering,” Brennan says. “The residents by and large (have) been shown possible places for them to move that are in racially segregated neighborhoods, in housing that’s racially segregated. All these are violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
Police intimidation
The lawsuit says 3CDC has repeatedly acted stop the tenants from voicing their opinion. During a meeting between tenants and 3CDC on Nov. 4, 2009, one of the tenants attempted to bring two advocates into the meeting. But Cincinnati Police officers stopped the advocates at the entrance of the building (see “Metropole Tenants Tell 3CDC: ‘Hell No, We won’t Go,’ ” issue of Nov. 15-30, 2009). 3CDC had requested the presence of the police to “keep housing advocates out of the meeting,” the lawsuit says.
At that meeting, 3CDC announced plans to relocate the tenants. When tenants attempted to challenge the relocation, they were allegedly “berated” by 3CDC. The lawsuit says 3CDC violated tenants’ right to organize freely, to associate freely with one another and with legal counsel and to be assisted by housing advocates. The use of the police to intimidate tenants and suppress their efforts to have advocates attend the meeting are all violations of their rights, the lawsuit says.
The complaint says 3CDC has routinely used police officers for intimidation when demanding access to tenants’ apartments without notice. One account, by Robert Wavre, head of the Metropole Tenants Association, says a police officer who frequently accompanied management verbally accosted him for displaying a sign protesting the displacement.
“This same officer accosted plaintiff Robert Wavre while both were riding a bus, screaming repeatedly at him that she would ‘knock his block off,’ ” the complaint says.
The tenants’ attorneys say 3CDC’s relocation plan is “unfair and deceptive.” 3CDC promised tenants that the “relocation program will insure that tenants’ monthly rent will not increase and all related moving expenses will be covered,” that each tenant would receive assistance and that 3CDC would “ensure that the relocation plan … (will) ultimately result in improved, higher-quality living conditions.” With little exception, none of these promises have been fulfilled, the attorneys say. Tenants have been shown apartments in segregated neighborhoods, often in high-crime areas with little transportation or job opportunities. 3CDC has also contradicted some of the previous statements, saying only some of the moving costs will be covered, the rent might increase and that one-on-one assistance from 3CDC might not be provided, according to the complaint
One of the defendants, Model Group/Brickstone Properties, managers of the Metropole Apartments, are providing the relocation services. The tenants’ lawsuit accuses the company of conspiring with 3CDC to steer tenants into housing that it owns or manages. The lawsuit says 3CDC and Model Group/Brickstone Properties have devised a scheme to make even more money out of the eviction of the tenants from by making them move: As a result, 3CDC gets a new hotel, and Model Group/Brickstone Properties finds tenants to fill its apartments.
The complaint quotes an unidentified but “prominent” businessman who lobbied the Louisville-based 21c Museum Hotel chain to invest in redeveloping the Metropole: “You can’t have those types of places across the street from the Aronoff Center. It’s like parking a Bentley on 14th and Main and expecting the Bentley to still be there.”
The lawsuit accuses 3CDC of deliberately eliminating low-income housing from downtown Cincinnati to make room for upscale, predominantly white residents, in direct violation of both the national and state Fair Housing Acts, both of which call for the development of housing that will racially integrate communities.
“The Metropole, which in itself is a racially integrated low-income housing resource, is going to be destroyed in the context of this desegregation of downtown into an upscale, predominantly white community of upscale housing,” Brennan says. “And that, in America, where we don’t allow segregation, where we protect people’s civil rights as a free society – we are very confident that the courts will not allow this to stand.”
Work on the new hotel is scheduled to start this fall. 3CDC has given the approximately 100 remaining tenants until Nov. 2 to move. At that time tenants’ lawyers intend to ask a federal judge to stop the redevelopment project until further notice. The tenants are also going to seek a restraining order to stop the relocation process.
Kelly Leon, spokeswoman for 3CDC, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The local HUD office also declined to comment.