From the Director: Kidnapped

From the Director: Kidnapped

by Josh Spring

The last resident at the historic Dennison Hotel was removed from his home in handcuffs.  Due to the fear and stress induced by the constant pressure from the new owners for him to move and this final forceful removal, he was admitted to the hospital because his heart was not functioning properly.  He had committed no crime and had done nothing wrong.  The new owners simply would not allow him or his previously displaced neighbors to continue to live in their homes.  One such neighbor, an elderly woman in fragile health left before the handcuffs came out and was forced into homelessness.  She had been the initial whistle-blower that came to tell us that Model Management and Talbert House were planning to displace everyone in the building.  She asked our Homeless Coalition to join her in organizing her neighbors to fight to save their homes.  Until August 17, 2011 for many decades the Dennison Hotel boasted 114 homes which were affordable to people on low incomes, fixed incomes or sporadic incomes.  For countless people, the Dennison was the difference between the sanctity of a home and the exposure of homelessness.

The Dennison at 716 Main Street was one of the last of its kind in the city and specifically in Cincinnati’s Central Business District (CBD) neighborhood.  Before it fell, after a two-and-a-half-year battle waged by Residents and the Homeless Coalition, the residents of the Metropole Apartments at 609 Walnut Street had been forced out by 3CDC in order to open the exclusive 21c hotel.  This was a loss of 223 affordable homes in the CBD.  Before this, the Fort Washington on Main closed; a loss of 75 homes.  And before that the Milner Hotel was torn down and replaced by expensive condos on Garfield, another loss of 114 residences.  Most recently Western and Southern forced the century-old Anna Louise Inn out of the CBD.  In fact, since 1990 Cincinnati’s Central Business District has lost approximately 984 affordable homes, due primarily to gentrification through the forced removal of people with low incomes and the subsequent flip to expensive housing for an exclusive group of people.  In 1990 there were approximately 44 buildings with 1248 affordable homes in the CBD.  Today there are approximately 19 buildings with 264 affordable residences.  105 of these are at the YWCA building on Walnut.

The loss of the Dennison is an example of poor planning, lack of respect for the Residents that lived there, an undervaluing of the need for significant quantities of affordable housing, the disregard of reality and eventual gentrification.  In 2010 Model Management purchased the Dennison.  In partnership with Talbert House they hoped to empty the building and rehab its single room occupancy apartments into 65 larger affordable supportive housing apartments.  As they considered this plan they did not consult with the people who called the Dennison home, the Homeless Coalition or its many direct-service Member Organizations including shelters, soup kitchens, outreach workers, housing organizations, etc.  Instead they took over the property and inconsistently told Residents they would eventually have to move.  This of course caused fear and anxiety and some people left, heading to less stable situations while other people stayed feeling they did not know what the near future held.  We began working with Residents who in a united front wanted to save their housing, but because the rental arrangement was of a month to month nature, Residents did not have a strong legal argument to save their housing and Model and Talbert were sticking to their plan.

Working with an organized group of Residents, we were successful in convincing Model to communicate with Residents in a more consistent fashion so that people would not leave prematurely.  We also got Model to agree to pay moving expenses and assist people in finding reservation housing.  While some people did end up in potentially stable housing, most likely did not and virtually none desired to move.  People had chosen to live at the Dennison because it worked for their lives.  It could be that it was near their place of employment, or near friends they enjoyed or near many bus lines or any of the many reasons people choose to live where they do.  Instead of respecting the desires of the people who lived in the Dennison and consulting with organizations that would better understand the need for the type of housing the Dennison offered, Model and Talbert emptied the building and then began publically working on their plan to reduce the number of units to 65 supportive housing units.

They claimed that this plan was a part of the city’s Homeless to Homes plan, even though that plan called for more housing, not less and though the Homeless Coalition publically explained that this displacement of people should not be considered a part of the Homeless to Homes plan, the city did not take a stance.

Model and Talbert applied for low-income tax credits to fund the renovation of the property.  They were denied.  They applied the next year and were denied.  They were denied for various reasons.  The Ohio Housing Finance Agency said that their overall proposed cost of renovation was too great.  In addition to that the Joseph family of the Joseph Auto Group used their close ties to the local Republican Party to influence the decisions because they desired to own the Dennison in order to tear it down and create parking.  The Joseph family was successful and eventually took ownership of the property.  Guess what, now they are hoping to tear it down.  In fact, they will be in front of the city’s Historic Conservation Board on April 18th at 3pm to attempt to convince the board to allow them to tear it down despite the building’s historic designation.  The Joseph family would rather see paid-parking than people with low incomes residing on Main Street in the Central Business District.

So, that’s the history.  If Model and Talbert had properly valued the people who lived in the Dennison and the great need for large quantities of affordable housing, they would not have displaced people to begin with.  They would not have moved forward with a plan to deplete the number of affordable homes while having no confirmed source of funds.  And they would not have exposed the property to the greedy influence of the wealthy Joseph family.  In short, all of this was preventable.

In fact, every bit of the massive displacement and affordable housing loss in the Central Business District neighborhood has been preventable.  In 1985, city council stated that the number of affordable homes in the CBD must be kept at no less than 1300.  The need for affordable housing is greater now than it was then and many more individuals and families with children are experiencing homelessness today than in 1985.  Despite that fact, instead of maintaining and adding more affordable housing to the CBD, we have eliminated approximately 984 affordable homes since 1990, leaving the CBD with approximately 264 affordable homes, 115 of which are in one building and specifically for older people.

Once the Metropole closed, the CBD lost its long-standing designation as a racially integrated neighborhood.  We have turned the CBD into an exclusive neighborhood for people with deep pockets and because of vast racism in our country, deep pockets also systematically means white skin.  This is not the end of the story however.  The only way to reverse a negative path is to start down a good one.  We can stop the Joseph family from being able to tear down the Dennison, by convincing the Historic Conservation Board to not allow the demolition.  We can then push city council to fund the re-establishment of affordable housing in the Dennision.  People started and fed this problem, people can also end it.  And we must not stop with the Dennision, the CBD, like all of our neighborhoods should be a place that anyone can call home if they so desire.

*1990 Housing Numbers taken from a study of affordable housing in Central Business District jointly completed by the Legal Aid Society and the City of Cincinnati in 1990.