Financial giant Western & Southern last week accused city officials and other Anna Louise Inn advocates of repeatedly deceiving the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to obtain federal funds for the Inn’s long-awaited, $13 million renovation.
Western & Southern’s lawyer, Glenn Whitaker, sent a letter obtained by CityBeat dated March 19 to City Solicitor John Curp accusing city officials of knowingly violating the Fair Housing Act by allowing the owner of the Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), to pursue federal funding for renovations while providing services to exclusively women in need, which he alleges would “discriminate on the basis of gender” by excluding men.
The Anna Louise Inn has been embroiled for the past two years in lawsuits over zoning issues brought forth by Western & Southern, which so far have failed to gather much merit but succeeded in delaying the funding and renovation.
Some women-only shelters are deemed permissible by HUD due to safety issues.
Whitaker alleges that the renovation plans expose ALI to discrimination liability, making the safety issue moot by providing clear, separated spaces for residents. The renovation plans include converting what are now dormitory-style units with shared bathrooms into private residences with private bathrooms and kitchens.
The letter also accuses a number of community members, including 3CDC, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Model Group, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and the YMCA of conspiring to move low-income residents from the Metropole on Walnut Street to the Anna Louise Inn in order to ease litigation with the Homeless Coalition and make way for the new, upscale 21c Museum Hotel.
John Barrett, Western & Southern’s CEO, is also on the board of 3CDC, which adds an extra element of mystery to the lodged accusations against the city and a nonprofit whose stated goal for more than 100 years has been to provide a haven for women in need.
“I think a lawsuit would be very much premature ... our first step is to talk to HUD and to make sure that between the both of us, we don’t see any discrimination or compliance issues,” Curp says. “As I sit here today, I can’t imagine this situation hasn’t been dealt with in the past. I’d be shocked if HUD hasn’t dealt with this in another community and come up with a set of guidelines for us to follow.”