Cincinnati Prays to Save Historical Homeless Shelter

by Jason Dean

Wednesday, August 10 saw a beautiful morning stretching across Cincinnati. The sky was blue and the air was cool; the kind of summer day that we always wish for but rarely get. It was a perfect climate for the near one hundred people who gathered on Main Street at the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse for the 9:30 a.m prayer vigil.

Later that morning was the court hearing in which Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) and the City of Cincinnati had to present a legal defense against the lawsuit filed by Western & Southern. The crowd was a diverse mix of people, but the leaders of the vigil were mostly women of the cloth.

Reverend Susan Bryan of Mount Auburn Presbyterian was the key organizer of the rally and all around were several different female pastors representing the different churches in the nonprofit union that runs the Inn.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls was one of the first to address the crowd with strong words of support for the Anna Louise Inn. Qualls shared that she in fact has lived within blocks of the Inn for the past four years and each day walks her dog in the park in front of Anna Louise. She emphasized that the residents of the Inn were good neighbors and nothing like the defamatory claims made by Western & Southern.

Qualls stated boldly that this was a clear case of a “force sale” from a business that did not like to be told “No!” The crowd erupted into applause at her precise and well-delivered speech.

The songs were loud and joyful. Christian Miller, also from Mount Auburn Presbyterian, played his guitar as he led the crowd through simple songs singing praises to God and charity.

Unfortunately, most of the reverends that stood to make their speeches and share prayers were not heard as well. Those inexperienced with a bullhorn battled against the roar of buses on Main Street, but even though the words may have been lost, the message was clear: let the Anna Louise Inn continue to do the good work it’s done for the past 102 years!

The lawsuit is the latest step in Western & Southern’s campaign to purchase the Anna Louise Inn property for its realty development projects. Back in 2005 when CUB was considering its financial options, selling and moving was one of many choices. During 2005-2009, Western & Southern offered CUB $1.75 million and then $1.8 million for the prime real estate. Like any person offered a price woefully under the value of the property, CUB declined. Instead, CUB decided to renovate Anna Louise and convert three of its five floors from dormitory styles single rooms into modern efficiency apartments that would offer a better standard of living for its residents.

So, CUB spent the last two years raising $10 million in tax credits and have recently been awarded $2.6 million in affordable housing (HOME loan) dollars. During those two years, Western & Southern had no communication with CUB, but now that the Anna Louise Inn potentially has $12.6 million to work with, the insurance giant has made its move by filing a grievance in the Hamilton County Courts against the City of Cincinnati decision to help the non-profit.

The Anna Louise Inn only “potentially” has the money for the renovation project. The tax credits have been awarded and CUB cause them to raise funds with the frequent practice of selling the credits to businesses that need to balance their charitable contributions against their earnings.

Most people are unfamiliar with this process, including Judge Nadel who is presiding over this case; lawyers for the defense had to explain it to him and at one point a laugh was raised in court when the judge seemed almost eager to purchase some credits himself. Despite the generous award in tax credits that CUB has poised for action, the credits have an expiration date and can only be used on the Anna Louise Inn building itself. Even if CUB had accepted the Brackett Village property, another undervalued
offer from Western & Southern, the awarded credits would be nontransferable.

11:00 a.m. that morning was the scheduled hearing before Judge Norbert A. Nadel. The court room was filled with supporters of the Anna Louise Inn, sitting on every available chair, lining the walls, and even sitting on the floor in the isle. The hearing was specifically for Cincinnati Union Bethel’s motion that the lawsuit be dismissed. With legal support from the Cincinnati City’s Solicitor’s office, the defense’s team of lawyers presented their central argument that this case should not even be appearing in the Hamilton County Courts, politely observing that the matter was not in the jurisdiction of the courts. The defense illustrated that Western & Southern had failed to exhaust all of its options to file a complaint against the City of Cincinnati’s choice to award the grant and permits to Anna Louise through the regular administrative channels of handling such disputes.

More recently, Western & Southern’s lawyers have filed the legitimate forms with the city’s zoning boards, but not until after trying to bypass the established process and jump straight to court. The defense delicately observed, with careful deference to Judge Nadel, that Western & Southern had timed the filing of the lawsuit for purposes of “judgeshopping” in an effort to find a judge whose track record might favor their case; the plaintiffs dismissed this.

Western & Southern’s legal representative Francis Barrett, also dismissed the emotional appeal of the defense’s case and insisted that this case was about “The Rule of Law,” a phrase that he repeated several times throughout his argument. The plaintiffs are contesting the zoning permits that were recently awarded for the renovation of Anna Louise by claiming that the non-profit’s operations go beyond what the permits allow. In previous hearings, Western & Southern has painted a picture of Anna Louise that confuses the services provided by the historic shelter with those of other facilities that provide housing and emergency services.

The campaign is being built on shocking the public into thinking that Anna Louise is a threat to the neighborhood, but in the courtroom it kept coming back to “The Rule of Law.” There is an irony that none of Anna Louise’s actual neighbors are filing complaints, just a developer trying to force a sale. Barrett, however, actually stated that the plaintiffs were not trying to take the building; it is just a matter of “The rule of law” as though Western & Southern’s attempt to block the work of Anna Louise was somehow a legal public service of keeping things fair. In a sarcastic tone, Barrett argued that CUB was abusing the zoning process with the attitude of “we’re entitled to do this because we’re doing good.” Despite Western & Southern’s history of wanting the Anna Louise building, the plaintiff’s case kept revolving around the nebulous “rule of law” and tried to deny that this was an attack.

The defense’s closing argument had a strong emotional undercurrent by respectfully accusing Western & Southern of employing a delay tactic by tying Anna Louise up in stretched out and expensive legal proceedings. It was observed that, unlike Western & Southern, Anna Louise does not have much money, so a long legal battle would effectively drain the non-profit’s resources and sabotage the renovation that is posed to begin. Judge Nadel had appeared stolid throughout much of the hearing but it was clear that the crowd was on the edge of its seats waiting to hear him dismiss the case. Instead, Judge Nadel stated that he had yet to decide and requested written reports from both sides for him to review. He vaguely asked if about a week was long enough; the defense accepted with deference but was quick to pin down that “about a week” would be Wednesday, August 17. So Anna Louise, the City of Cincinnati, and all of CUB’s supporters must wait to find out the fate of this historic charity.