Lessons in Being Good Neighbors and Bad Neighbors

by Stephen Snow Gentry

Until very recently, I briefly and barely followed the Anna Louise Inn saga. Because I believe in and have great respect for Cincinnati Union Bethel’s mission and the rewards reaped through the success of the services that they provide, I expected the “… storm to blow OVER!!”

However, a letter to the editor (The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 5, 2011 – Western and Southern covets property – Elizabeth Brown) brought absolute clarity. Western and Southern has begun to display true “addictive behavior.” They want what they want … right NOW, by any means necessary!

When their initial “offer” to buy the property was refused, a series of strategic attacks against the Inn’s management, residents, as well as, current and proposed services surfaced. Western and Southern has even attempted to gain the sympathy of its neighbors by playing “the crime card” and placing little value on the lives of certain human beings.

According to W & S officials the Inn’s programs are “out of character, “not in keeping with their plan to attract, “decision makers” to the area. They, also, envision making the neighborhood “a real community.”

Are these meant to be well meaning comments and observations about the current and potential program participants? What view does W & S have about the program residents who have coexisted in the neighborhood for over a century?

Their effort has culminated in a lawsuit against the city. the Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel and two city employees: Amit Ghosh, the city’s chief building officer and Margaret Wuerstle, the city’s zoning hearing examiner. It claims that the named parties failed to conduct proper “reviews to make certain the social service agency conforms to the city’s zoning, permitting and licensing regulations.”

In an e-mail dated January 21, 2011, Michael J. Laatsch, Vice President of Public Relations & Corporate Communications, Western and Southern Group questions “the best way for that work (non-profit social service) to be carried out that creates the most benefits for our community?”

Would “an expensive,taxpayer funded renovation of the current A L I do serious harm to the efforts to revitalize the Lytle Park neighborhood and threaten the creation of hundreds of jobs and millions in tax revenue?”

The answers to both questions lie in the systematic attitude of exclusion. To suggest that expansion of A L I services “may be unsuitable,” is akin to putting the wagon ahead of the horse.

Yes, the A L I facility was originally intended to be a temporary residence for single working women.

“It is now providing additional services to many with mental health issues, prostitutes and homeless families seeking shelter or (and, in most cases) to turn their lives around.”

These PEOPLE are individuals in need of assistance and support as a direct result of the dismal economic times we are experiencing.

I can think of no better use of “… these taxpayer dollars” when I mirror this expenditure against the tax abatements and renovation dollars for the Phelps Apartments. Are my tax dollars being well spent paying to defend against a frivolous lawsuit aimed at property OWNED by my neighbor?

To suggest that Cincinnati Union Bethel should invite Western and Southern to the table to make decisions about their property is ludicrous. Is this something that W & S would do? I THINK NOT!!
I see different players with the same face, that of exclusion and segregation. You Western and Southern lend credence to the saying “ NOT in MY backyard.”