by Nick Swartsell
101 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:03 AM | Permalink
Greenpeace P&G protester dies; King James comes to Cincy; is Grimes done for?
Good morning Cincy! I’m a little groggy today after last night’s Iron Fork event, which was awesome. If you were at the Moerlein Taproom for the chef showdown and restaurant sampling festivities, you probably saw me with the group that pretty much monopolized the giant Jenga set all night. Sorry ‘bout that. Anyway, on with the news.One of the Greenpeace activists on trial for hanging an anti-palm oil banner from P&G headquarters has died, the Associated Press reports. Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, died Oct. 6, according to an obituary in the Fresno Bee newspaper. No cause of death or other details have been released. Wilkerson was one of eight activists facing felony burglary and vandalism charges in connection with the March protest. A ninth activist took a plea bargain. • Yesterday’s City Council meeting was action packed. Well, maybe not action packed, but interesting and eventful. OK, OK, just eventful, and with more bickering than usual for some reason. Members of council got their feathers all ruffled by the fact that the media knew about Cincinnati’s $18 million budget surplus before they did, perhaps marking the end of new City Manager Harry Black’s honeymoon with the city’s most illustrious deliberative body. Council members found it a bit off-putting that plans were already being made for that money before they even knew it existed. Black promised to make sure every council member is tipped off the next time the city finds unexpected change in the couch cushions.But look at me over here gossiping. Substantive stuff happened as well. • The city will pay $300,000 to help clean up a failed compost facility in Winton Hills affectionately nick-named “Big Stanky.” OK, no one but me calls it that. But it does smell very bad, and that’s caused a great deal of controversy. The company, Cincy Compost, went bust earlier this year, but left something like 80,000 tons of rotting meat and other food scraps behind. The city is chipping in on the cleanup because it has to be done, but Mayor Cranley and a few council members weren’t happy about it. Cranley used the issue as an opportunity to jab at the city’s Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, which he blamed for the mess. Other council members, including Chris Seelbach, jumped to defend the office, to which Cranley replied that the office’s “Meatfree Monday” initiative was dumb. Seemed like a bit of a low blow, since Seelbach is a vegetarian, but that’s neither here nor there.• Council also voted to apply for nine HUD grants worth more than $6 million for the city’s Continuum of Care program. The money would be used to provide rental assistance for homeless, low-income people with disabilities. Council also approved a $500,000 loan to Walnut Court Limited Partnership, a Walnut Hills developer. The developer will be rehabbing 30 units in the neighborhood to provide housing for very low income individuals. This deal was a bit more controversial, as Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how the property, which was overseen by HUD, came to need such extensive renovations and why the city should have to pay for them.• Moving on to market rate developments, there are some new
plans for the former site of the historic house that held
Christy’s/Lenhardt’s restaurant and bar in Clifton Heights. The house
was demolished last year to make way for an apartment building in the
university neighborhood. Gilbane Development Co., which was part of
initial plans to put a larger development at the site, has come back
with some revised, scaled-down ideas. The building was originally going
to be eight stories tall with 245 units of housing. It will now be only
six stories with 190 units, as well as some commercial space. The
project will be part of a larger development effort for the block that
should happen sometime in 2015.• A little old, but worth noting: The Hamilton County Public Defenders Office has written a letter to Mayor John Cranley
about Cincinnati Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, saying he took
inappropriate actions last month by getting a judge to sign a warrant
that would have allowed him to search the entire public defender’s
office over a single robbery case. That just doesn’t happen to private
law firms, the defender’s office says, and shouldn’t be allowed. The
mayor and the city manager have said they want to work with the public
defender’s office to make sure evidence is gathered in the least
invasive way possible in the future.• LeBron James was in Cincinnati yesterday for a Cavs preseason game at
Xavier University against the Indiana Pacers, and he said he liked the
city, calling it “a great sports town.” Despite being arguably the
state’s biggest name in sports, James had never played in Cincinnati
before. He scored 26 points in the game.• Let’s take a quick jog south and revisit the Kentucky Senate race, shall we? Recent articles have prognosticated that time is almost up for Democrat Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm in the race, stopped spending money on ads in the state this week, leading reporters to say the party is pulling out of the race and that Grimes is ready for the fork, cause she’s done. That appears to have been a premature judgment, however. Potential Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned for Grimes yesterday in Louisville, urging voters in the Bluegrass State to “put another crack in the glass ceiling” by putting Grimes into office. It also turns out that the DSCC is still running polls in Kentucky and may jump back into the race with more ads before all is said and done. Grimes' campaign also has about $4 million in that cash money in the bank, so don't count her out just yet. Much has been made of Grimes’ refusal to say who she voted for in the last two presidential elections, and some pundits, including conservative commentator Rich Lowry, have said it has sunk Grimes’ chances in the race. Lowry wrote a deeply dumb rant ostensibly about that subject (though it quickly jumps the rails and becomes yet another boring anti-Obama diatribe about four paragraphs in). Clearly Democrats are still hoping Grimes has a chance, though.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: Homelessness
at 02:47 PM | Permalink
Cuts to rental aid programs leave more people on the streets
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit. Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011. That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services. Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts. "I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD. Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:41 AM | Permalink
Ticket scalping, Section 8 shenanigans and drugs
Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond. Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes. In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3. • Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority. Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.• The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner. There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.
by Hannah McCartney
Threat of lawsuit next phase in Anna Louise Inn dispute
Financial giant and Lytle Park bully Western & Southern has accused city officials and other Anna Louise Inn advocates of repeatedly deceiving the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to obtain federal funds for the long-awaited, $13 million renovations to the Inn.
Those renovations are the same ones that have been blocked over and over by a series of legal entanglements initiated by Western & Southern, which tried to purchase the Inn back in 2009 for $1.8 million, refusing to buffer the Inn's $3 million price tag. In 2011, the Hamilton County Auditor valued the plot at $4 million.
Now, the corporate giant, which owns a number of other plots of land in Lytle Park, wants to buy the Inn and convert it into an upscale hotel.
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 federal 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 the letter alleges would “discriminate on the basis of gender” and “expose the City to liability under both the federal False Claims Act and the FHA.”
“We share this with you because — no matter where one stands on whether ALI’s renovations comply with Cincinnati Zoning Code — it is in the public interest for the City to avoid a lawsuit that could lead to a significant payout in today’s budget environment,” reads the letter.
Of course, that lawsuit is one that would be entirely fabricated and launched by Western & Southern, on top of years worth of zoning violation allegations that, so far, have failed to gather much merit.Some women-only shelters are deemed permissible due to safety issues, but in the letter, Whitaker alleges that the renovation plans expose ALI to discrimination liability by, in theory, making the safety issue moot by providing clear, separated spaces for men and women. The renovation plans include converting what are now dormitory-style units with shared bathrooms into private residences with private bathrooms and kitchens, according to the letter. Curp, who received the letter, says the city’s relationship with HUD is one that hinges on constant communication, and though Western & Southern's allegations were unexpected, they'll be taken seriously. “We work with them closely, we have a great relationship with HUD. They were the first organization we contacted when we got this letter, ... so they understood the nature of the allegations and because they’re one of our development partners. We have lots of development partners in the city, frankly, including Western & Southern. ... We're disappointed that the city has been pulled into what is otherwise a third-party dispute."
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 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; at best, it seems extreme they'd be willing to accuse ally 3CDC of wrongdoing or conspiracy for the sake of a discrimination lawsuit against a nonprofit social services agency whose stated goal for more than 100 years has been to provide a haven for women in need. Ideally, explains Curp, HUD will respond equipped with some sort of past precedent that would absolve the city and the Inn of alleged discrimination and make the lawsuit irrelevant. "I think a lawsuit would be very much premature. ... Like I said, 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. If there’s any chance of that ... after our review and a review by HUD, we will fix it to bring it into compliance," he 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."
by German Lopez
More than 700 units being sold to New York company
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is asking the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop the sale of 748 housing
units to a New York company — potentially preventing a repeat of a
similar sale back to 2007 that led to dropping property values in the area.
In a press release Tuesday, Qualls argued that locals should be given the
opportunity to purchase the project-based Section 8 housing in Walnut
Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Currently, HUD is bypassing local
communities with plans to sell the housing to a corporation controlled
by the Puretz family of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Cincinnati’s residents are still recovering from the
massive disinvestment that was allowed to occur with an eerily similar
situation in 2010,” Qualls said in the release, referring to a
similar sale that culminated in a huge drop in property values between
2007 and 2010.
In 2007, HUD sold 618 subsidized housing units to NY Group
OH 1 LLC, a company with no previous housing experience in Cincinnati,
according to Qualls’ release. As the 2008 financial crisis and Great
Recession pulled down the global economy, property values dropped all
around the nation, but things went particularly south in NY Group’s
Cincinnati buildings. The owner eventually defaulted on the housing
units, and Fannie Mae foreclosed in 2010. Property values went from $21.5
million to $7 million between 2007 and 2010, when the units were sold in a sheriff’s sale. In that time period, the
buildings blighted, with residents complaining about
deteriorating structures, broken lighting, bed bugs, cockroaches and mold. In one case, an
apartment’s restroom ceiling reportedly collapsed.
Qualls is focused on preventing more blighted buildings:
“Preservation of the housing in good condition is vital to the
improvement of our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods cannot afford to
have more blight brought on by an absentee owner. Because these
properties are supported by government funding, it is vitally important
that HUD get public input from the City of Cincinnati and Avondale,
Walnut Hills and Millvale residents and stakeholders about this proposed
new transfer of HUD funded properties before making any further
Qualls has invited the local HUD field office director to
the Feb. 26 Livable Communities Committee meeting to discuss the sale.
She has also written to other HUD officials, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen.
Rob Portman and Rep. Steve Chabot to prevent the sale.