From the Director: Lawsuit!
By: Josh Spring LSW, Executive Director
Lawsuits are a tool in our movement to fight homelessness. This Saturday, August 18th, marks two years
since the Metropole Tenant Association filed federal suit against 3CDC, the city of Cincinnati, the Federal
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and others. The decision to do so was not made
by Tenants hastily or on a whim. For 13 months, the Metropole Tenant Association had been embroiled
in this battle over their homes; 13 long months.
The Homeless Coalition was the first to tell the Tenants of 3CDC’s plan to purchase their building, to
force everyone out in order for others to occupy their homes as a boutique hotel. Rob Goeller from the
Coalition knocked on Tenants doors letting them know the news, and asked them two questions – did
they know this was coming, and did they want it? Overwhelmingly people said they had never been
asked or even told and that “of course not,” they did not want to leave their homes. The third time Rob
went to speak with Tenants, he was physically removed from the building.
After hearing the news, number of Tenants were ready to take on the battle and organize their
neighbors. The Metropole Tenant Association was formed by Tenants and began to meet regularly.
Tenants went after the existing absentee landlord, headquartered in Columbus. Tenants filed Fair
Housing Complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Conversations
were had with HUD from local to regional to national. Tenants spoke to the media and held protests.
On November 3rd, 2009, Election Day, 3CDC purchased the Metropole building that had held nearly
230 units of affordable housing for 30 years. Late in the day, they announced a “Tenant Meeting” for
early the next morning. When I spoke in person with the president of 3CDC, Steve Leeper, telling him
we would be in the meeting, he said he understood. The next morning, with a Tenant ready to escort us
in, we were met by a police officer that informed us, “Mr. Leeper will not allow you in.” This was a city
police officer telling us that the head of a private company would not allow us to do something. We left
and called our lawyers at Legal Aid, they determined that Tenants of subsidized housing are allowed to
bring in advocates. 3CDC and the police department had broken the law.
The next morning at a Tenant meeting, Tenants explained that they had been corralled—like cattle—
into the middle of the large Metropole ballroom. People in suits, including 3CDC, the police and HUD,
stood around them and told them they had to leave. We asked Tenants what they wanted to do. They
said, they wanted to run the second meeting scheduled for later that day and put the “suits” in the
middle of the room. So we planned this action.
On November 5th, Tenants took over the ballroom and held it for two hours. 3CDC and all others who
wanted Tenants gone were kept in the hall way. Tenants positioned their many chairs in a very large
circle. 3CDC had the police tell us to leave; we instead showed the police the law and said we would
stay. Eventually the Tenants allowed the highest ranking member of 3CDC and another to enter the
room. The two stood in the middle of about 100 people whose homes they were working to take. The
tables were turned. The Tenants saw their own power, the power of themselves and their neighbors.
They left that meeting invigorated.
This fire Tenants left with was important, because they had to make it through many more months
of hardships. Hardships like long winter months in which consistent hot water was not provided,
harassment by staff for standing in the common areas of the building, threats of evictions for no wrong
doing, discrimination based on economic class and race, being greeted by police for simple maintenance
calls and more. Not to mention the constant struggle to save their homes. On the day the building was
taken over by 3CDC, mounted police guarded the door and Tenants heard police roaming the hallways
throughout the night.
Many more months of battle by strong Tenants went by. When tenants cornered Shaun Donovan, the
head of HUD, at a press conference, he shut it down after questions about Metropole. Eventually—two
years ago, Tenants sued. The battle did not end there; nearly two-and-a-half years had passed by the
time a settlement was reached and enacted.
In the end, Tenants were forced from their homes, the community was not saved. Despite this, the
Tenants fought for and achieved a major success. There had been other similar battles in years past.
Each of those times, the Tenant group fought very hard, but could not get to the point of lawsuit or
they sued and lost. Those Tenants got as far as they could at that time and luckily Metropole Tenants
were able to stand on top of the hard work of those past struggles. As a result, the Meropole Tenants
received a financial settlement in their favor. This was the first time in Cincinnati’s history that displaced
Tenants had received a settlement in their favor. The next time a company tries to take over a building
and remove all those they consider undesirable, we will start at the point the Metropole Tenants got us
In your roster of heroes, you should list the Metropole Tenant Association. They stood against lots of
money, threats, stress, sadness, hate, history and more- and made history for the People. If you meet a
member of the Metropole Tenant Association—please thank them.
The fight is not over, of course, Metropole was a battle in a large war. Affordable housing remains
under attack, as do people with less economic opportunity. We have prime examples locally: the Anna
Louise Inn is fighting back against the bully Western and Southern, City Gospel Mission is struggling back
against the companies that have sued them and we must all support the Drop Inn Center as 3CDC works
to displace them. This will be over when everyone has the ability to live in an adequate and affordable
home in a place where they want to live, with good jobs forall—in essence when all people have all that
they need to live; when they have a legitimate voice and no one attempts to trample their free-will.
Stand strong, and if you are not involved on the right side of the struggle, join in—please.