You do not own what you think you own. Not in the way you think you own it. What’s yours is only yours until somebody with enough money decides they want it. Don’t believe me? Try owning a home in the middle of a proposed $175 million office complex1 or renting an apartment in a dilapidated historical building when a public-private partnership decides they want to turn it into a boutique hotel2. If you’re lucky you’ll end up being forced to move with some settlement cash in your back pocket to help you start your involuntary new life and keep your damn mouth shut. You don’t want to know what happens when you’re unlucky3. The city is not your friend. Neither is the state. And don’t even think about hoping the Feds will find your little needle in the haystack of woe because those daft bastards couldn’t find their dick with both hands. Ultimately, the man you really need to help you keep what you rightfully own is in the mahogany-trimmed board rooms of private enterprise and he’s the one who wants it in the first place. Welcome to the New Gilded Age, where the social contract’s been used for kindling and the only democratic thing about the system is that pretty much everyone’s hurting more today than they were the day before. In today’s America, the little guy always loses, even when he wins.
In some places, a beloved civic institution that was built in the front yard of the city’s most famous family and has provided affordable housing to poor, homeless and often battered women for over a century would be sacrosanct. In Cincinnati, it’s simply real estate. The Anna Louise Inn, a residence built in the Taft family’s front lawn in 1909 to serve as a refuge for women in need, has been snatched up by a Fortune 500 company against the will of the women who lived there and despite the fact that it was never actually up for sale4. In 2007, The Western & Southern Financial Group offered The Anna Louise Inn a deal that would have the insurance giant, who possesses over $53 billion in assets, pay a pittance of $1.8 million for the property on which the Inn stood, even though the land itself is worth around $4 million5. The Inn, which was in dire financial straits, provided a counterproposal in 2009 that raised the asking price from $1.8 million to around $3 million, with much of the added money going towards the costs of transplanting the program and the Inn’s residents elsewhere. Western & Southern declined the offer, despite the fact that it was still less than independent appraisals of what the land was worth, because their leadership thought that The Anna Louise Inn had no other option than to cave to their draconian demands. They thought wrong.
In the summer of 2010, Cincinnati Union Bethel—the 181 year old charitable organization that owns The Anna Louise Inn—received $12.6 million in state and federal financing for renovations at The Inn, bringing them a level of financial stability that meant they no longer had to look for buyers in order to keep their programs running. The folks over at Western & Southern didn’t take too kindly to this development, principally because The Anna Louise Inn property was the last piece of their urban development puzzle, completing their ownership of nearly every property in the lucrative Lytle Park Historic District. So, in following with the history of a city that was built on the backs of hundreds of millions of slaughtered swine, Western & Southern Financial Group bled the Anna Louise Inn like a stuck pig, sapping the fiscal life from it through years of intentionally endless legislation.
Over the intervening years, Western & Southern’s attorneys would do their best to sue the little non-profit that could into oblivion, filing suits concerning arcane zoning laws and appealing everything in sight in order to put a hold on the $12.6 million in funding The Inn had been given. From that point on, it just became a waiting game. Western & Southern was holding The Anna Louise Inn under siege like some Confederate hill town in The Civil War, surrounding them with a battalion of lawyers and waiting until their coffers ran dry, which—of course—they did. Last week, Cincinnati Union Bethel announced that they had accepted a deal with Western & Southern to buy The Anna Louise Inn property for $4 million. The Inn will be relocating about two miles to the north to what is now a vacant lot in Mount Auburn. Western & Southern CEO John Barrett and his motley assortment of rapacious bloodsuckers have declared the agreement a “win-win,” which is true if Western & Southern is winning both times. Confronted with the expiration of the $10 million in tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency if they were still tied up in court with Western & Southern at the end of the year, Cincinnati Union Bethel was left with no real choice but to settle6. It was the best thing to do in an environment where the right thing has been rendered impossible.
Having successfully commandeered The Anna Louise Inn, Barrett plans to replace it with an exorbitantly priced boutique hotel that would, “maintain the historical significance and integrity of the building7.” How one maintains the historical significance and integrity of a place while simultaneously evicting the tenants who gave the property those things in the first place is beyond me, but I’m sure Barrett’s got classy plaque he’s planning on putting up or something. Anyway, his future clientele won’t give a good god damn about the well-being of the women seeking refuge from streetwalking or domestic violence who used to live in what is now a $650 a night hotel room once they see the sweet riverfront view out their window. All you need to do is head over a dozen blocks or so to the rapidly gentrifying Over The Rhine to know that history is now a commodity to be appropriated and massaged by whoever has the capital and the clout to do so. Put in enough boutique hotels and boutique shops and pretty soon you’ve got a boutique neighborhood. There’s no such thing as boutique affordable housing.
Categories: Social Justice