Metropole Tenants Make History

By GCCH Staff

The Metropole Tenant Association made Cincinnati history on Wednesday, September 21st in Federal Court.  After two and a quarter years of hard work, Tenants settled their civil rights and fair housing lawsuit against 3CDC, Model Management, Showe Properties, Housing and Urban Development and the City of Cincinnati.  This is the first time in Cincinnati history that a group of Tenants of affordable housing that have been displaced have received a monetary settlement.   Per the settlement agreement, 3CDC and Model Management must pay to the Tenant Association $80,000 that will predominately be split among responding Tenants.  In addition 3CDC will have to meet at least once a quarter for a year with representatives from the Metropole Tenant Association, the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and any others invited that advocate for affordable housing.   In these meetings 3CDC will have an obligation to share the projects they are working on and especially how they affect affordable housing.  These meetings serve as a now mandated tool to pull 3CDC’s actions from the shadows into the public light.

President of the Metropole Tenant Association, Derwin Tate states that he is, “Disappointed that the outcome is not all Tenants deserve, but proud of all that was accomplished.  Companies and politicians have seen that they cannot just gang up on the less fortunate.”  This federal settlement creates a precedent.  When the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless first entered the Metropole Building to organize Tenants over two years ago, no local Tenant group had ever had success in court in a situation like this and many had never made it to court.  As Tenants, the Homeless Coalition and Legal Aid began to meet and create strategy, it was clear from the start that all involved demanded their right to home and to not be displaced be up held, that affordable housing be kept in the downtown, along with diversity and that it is both legally and morally wrong for any person or company to decide one group of people must leave a neighborhood in order to bring another group in.  Despite the fact that Tenants, organizers and advocates knew it would be a long, uphill battle, they decided to see it through.

Organizing efforts led by the Metropole Tenant Association and the Homeless Coalition continued, with legal representation and leadership from Legal Aid.  The Metropole at 609 Walunt street that had housed nearly 230 units of affordable housing for 30 years was sold by Showe Properties to 3CDC on November third, 2009. On this day 209 people called Metropole home.  For months both 3CDC and Model had been saying that when the building was purchased they would announce in advance and host an informative Tenant meeting.  Late in the afternoon on November third a Tenant meeting was announced for 8:30am the next morning, leaving little time for Tenants to organize.  In person the night of November third, Homeless Coalition Executive Director, Josh Spring told 3CDC President Steve Leeper that himself and another Coalition representative would be attending the next morning’s Tenant meeting, Steve Leeper said he knew this would happen and that it was okay.  Coalition Civil Rights Outreach Coordinator, Rob Goeller was told the same by Model President, Steve Smith.  The next morning both Josh Spring and Rob Goeller showed up at the front entrance of Metropole with a Tenant escort- as were the rules of the building.  Already waiting in front of the entrance was a Cincinnati Police Officer who said, “Mr. Leeper will not allow you into the building.”

Immediately Mr. Spring and Mr. Goeller called their Legal Aide partners, lawyers John Schrider and Rickell Howard.  After some research Mr. Schrider and Ms. Howard explained that Federal Law allows Tenants of subsidized housing the right to bring in both lawyers and advocates on their behalf.  As soon as advocates were requested to be brought in by the Tenant in front of the building and access was denied, the law was broken.  An emergency meeting was called of the Metropole Tenant Association for the morning of November 5th.  At this meeting Tenants explained that at the first Tenant meeting, Tenants were herded into the center of the ballroom inside of Metropole and then those in suits, including 3CDC officials, HUD officials, Model officials, Cincinnati Police members stood around them in a circle- explaining that they must all leave as soon as possible in order to have any real chance of keeping housing.  Tenants reported hearing promises of hard-wood flooring and nice tile and even at least one person was told she would get a balcony with a telescope.  Later that day Mounted Police were seen in front of the building and Tenants reported hearing Police roaming their hallways that night.  Tenants explained that many of their neighbors had felt frightened and intimidated by being corralled into a room and forcefully being told to leave.

The Homeless Coalition and Legal Aid representatives then asked Tenants what they wanted to do.  Tenant said they wanted to run the second Tenant meeting that had been announced for the next day, November fifth at 4pm.   So, the next day a group of Tenants went early to the ballroom before 3CDC and Model Administration arrived, they took over the ballroom, lining it with posters demanding the saving of Metropole as affordable housing. On the outside representatives from the Homeless Coalition and Legal Aid with Tenants entered the building before those desiring to stop such an event arrived.  The chairs in the ballroom were put in a circle as more and more Tenants arrived.  Eventually the room filled with 100 or more Tenants.  Simultaneously the hallway to the ballroom filled with the same folks in suits, including 3CDC and Model.  Tenants would not allow 3CDC, Model or any other such group into the ballroom, only Tenants and advocates were allowed in.  Tenants began to passionately express themselves, their fears and their plan to fight back.  The Cincinnati Police arrived and told both Homeless Coalition representatives and Legal Aide Representatives that they must leave at the demand of 3CDC.  This time however the organizing team was prepared with the law in hand and explained that the law allowed them to be present and they would not leave.  After Tenants had had time to express themselves, one representative from 3CDC and one representative from Model Management were allowed to stand in the middle of the room as about 100 Tenants stood around them.  Finally they were faced by the people they were hurting.  Both stumbled over their words, visibly shaking and unable to give adequate answers to the concerns and frustrations of Tenants.  Tenants that had not done so yet, then joined the Tenant Association in droves, creating a long line to sign up to join the battle.

Following this, later in the year, with the legal leadership of Legal Aide, Tenants filled a Fair Housing Complaint with HUD, launching discussion from Cincinnati to Columbus to Chicago to Washington D.C between Tenants, Legal Aid and the Homeless Coalition.  The first Complaint was closed due to “lack of jurisdiction.”  Meaning it was not investigated.  Tenant soon filed a second complaint including additional information.  For months in many conversations, HUD gave assurances that the complaint was being taken seriously and that it would simply take time to process.  Tenants continued pushing the issue with HUD, but also focused on letting the general public know what was going on and how they were being treated, including a protest of the 3CDC board’s role in displacing people in front of board Vice -Chair, Joe Pichler’s church after Mr. Pichler refused to meet with Tenants and a picket in front of 3CDC’s quarterly meeting,

Tenants of Metropole went the winter of 2009 into 2010 without consistent hot water despite numerous demands being given to 3CDC to provide adequate hot water.  Continually Tenants received intimidating pressure to leave the building.  At least one Tenant received physical threats.  Police were taken to the doors of Tenant organizers for maintenance calls.  After several months and no final response on the second complaint from HUD, Shaun Donovan, Secretary of HUD was due to be in town proclaiming another project.  At this press conference Tenants and advocates corned Mr. Donovan demanding an explanation as to what was happening with the complaint.  He responded, in front of cameras, saying that he had read the complaint that morning, was taking it seriously and that a decision would be made soon.  Days later the Homeless Coalition learned that Cincinnati City Council was considering giving 3CDC money to help turn Metropole into the hotel.  Josh Spring connected Mr. Donovan requesting that he advise City Council to not put dollars into a situation pending federal investigation.  Instead Mr. Spring received a phone call from HUD explaining that the complaint had been closed.  Before any formal notice of such closure was issued 3CDC was on the phone letting local media know the complaint had been closed.  Once formal notice was issued, the letter, unlike the letter from the first complaint closure, had no stamped date on it and had spent some time in the Chief Procurement Officer’s Office of HUD, the office that helps private organizations procure HUD owned property.

Tenants along with the Homeless Coalition met in February 2010, just before a meeting of Councils, with the offices of City Council Members demanding that they not put public dollars into the displacement of over 200 people and the further segregation of Cincinnatians.  Instead Tenants heard that their building and homes were crime-ridden with drugs and prostitution and were generally dirty and unsafe.  Tenants explained that none of this was true and that in fact there was a strong community of neighbors inside of Metropole that cared for one another and looked after one another.  Instead of deciding to preserve diverse and affordable housing in the downtown Central business district and stand by the right of people to live where they choose, council sung the praises of 3CDC and voted to send public dollars to change Metropole into a “boutique hotel” for tourists.

In early 2010 representatives from the Metropole Tenant Association, Legal Aid and the Homeless Coalition met at the negotiating table with 3CDC, Model Management and their legal counsel, mediated by Peg Fox of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati.  In this meeting, Tenants brought a short list of demands including the new strategy adopted by Tenants- replacement affordable housing in the downtown, restored adequate hot water, removal of intimidation tactics, etc.  Out of nine demands, 3CDC and Model, according to Tenants at the time only sufficiently met one and a half of these demands- they removed the boards they had started putting over hallway doors of vacant units and began allowing Tenant chose representatives to come to “relocation meetings.”  Neither affordable housing, hot water nor the other bulk of the demands were restored.

Tenants and the Homeless Coalition continued the fight with press releases and interviews  as well as continued Tenant  and advocate rallying- all aimed at letting the general public know how much power a private company was being given- the power to choose where Federally contracted homes should be and the power to decide where people should live.  In August of 2010, the Metropole Tenant Association filed suit with the assistance of Lawyers Jennifer Kinsley and Terry Brennan.  The lawsuit explained that Tenants were being discriminated against on the basis of race, age and ability.  In addition the lawsuit explained the efforts taking place to remove affordable housing from the Central Business District through tactics of intimidation and the ability of Model to divide federal Housing Assistance Payment Contracts, guaranteeing the subsidized housing and send them all over the County- an action that only two companies in the whole country are allowed to due per an change attached to the end of a bill before Federal Congress in September of 2008.  The suit explains that this law and the resulting subsequent actions are in breach of fair housing law, because it allows a private company to choose where people live.  Furthermore the lawsuit explains that the downtown Central Business District for decades was classified as a racially diverse neighborhood and because Tenants were being pushed depending on race to historically segregated communities, a group of people were being re-segregated- an illegal act.

Negotions between the Metropole Tenant Association with the legal advice of Ms. Kinsley and Mr. Brennan and consultation of the Homeless Coalition and primarily 3CDC and Model began.  After months of negations, Tenants decided to settle.  Now for the first time in Cincinnati history a group of people with low incomes, displaced by gentrification have received a monetary settlement.  The Metropole Tenants have signaled that Tenants of affordable housing will not be walked over, will not be pushed around and will fight for rights.  The Homeless Coalition has signaled that it will stand beside Tenants the whole way through.  Those involved stand on the backs of those before, those that have fought these same battles, but never made it to court or did not have a decision in their favor, but with passion and commitment took the fight as far as they could at that time.  The Metropole Tenant Association with the legal guidance first of Legal Aid’s John Schrider and Rickell Howard and later the legal team on the lawsuit, Jennifer Kinsley and Terry Brennan as well as the organizing and relentless efforts of the Homeless Coalition took the fight even further.  History was made and ground was taken.  Federal Precedent was set.  Eventually the fight will be taken all the way home- truly home- a time when everyone is allowed their right to home.

Among all of you there are 209 Metropole Tenants that were forced from their homes and displaced, they fought hard despite bullying tactics, inconsistent hot water, boards on doors in their hallways, police roaming their hallways, being herded into a circle in a ballroom with suits all around them and being told they had to go, and strong intimidation- and they stood strong.  Their strong and supportive community inside Metropole was torn apart, but they stood strong- these people, of this caliber are among you- please issue them your praise.  Tenant Officers included: Derwin  Tate, Frank Dauterich, Gary Jesswein, Emanuel Green, Michael Glasper and Ed Carter, more men than women lived in the building and most women had been forced out by the time officer positions were chosen, many other Tenant leaders go un-named because the list would be too long.  In addition, throughout this, organizations like Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati, Affordable Housing Advocates, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Faith Community Alliance and local NAACP stood by Tenants as well as other groups and many other individuals.

We must not forget that these very fights continue.  We must stand strong with the women who need the Anna Louise Inn, the many people who need the Drop Inn Center and those in need of City Gospel Mission- each of these organizations are under attack by companies that say they don’t belong.