Ohio Women’s Home Fighting Insurance Company to Stay Put

By | May 10, 2013

Supporters of a nonprofit home for struggling women on May 8 protested the continued efforts of a major insurance company to force them to move out of their beautiful downtown neighborhood as a pivotal court hearing on the matter was delayed.

About 150 supporters of the 104-year-old Anna Louise Inn protested outside the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas in downtown Cincinnati, where a judge who previously ruled against the women’s home was supposed to begin hearing new arguments in the case.

The three-day hearing was delayed indefinitely but is expected to be rescheduled soon.

Protesters derided the delay as “prolonging an already frivolous case” and demanded that insurance giant Western & Southern Financial Group end the now two-year court fight.

“I’m enraged. This place helps the community,” said Tatiana McCormick, 24, who lived at the inn just after she left Ohio’s foster care system six years ago and is now a motivational speaker. “All I have to say to Western & Southern is, ‘Shame on you,’ because this is our home.”

Western & Southern, a Fortune 500 company, has been trying for several years to buy or force out the Anna Louise from the Lytle Park Historic District, the beautiful and serene neighborhood they share, and turn it into a boutique hotel.

The company successfully sued to stop renovation of the 103-year-old property and publicly disparaged residents as homeless prostitutes who don’t belong in the neighborhood.

Western & Southern spokesman Michael Laatsch said in a prepared statement that there is a win-win solution available, referring to a standing offer from the company to buy the Anna Louise for $3 million so they can move to a built-to-suit modern facility, and the inn can be turned into a boutique hotel.

“We have consistently stated our commitment and interest to talking with all parties to achieve just such a solution,” Laatsch said. “That remains true today.”

In a September editorial in The Cincinnati Enquirer, company CEO John Barrett said a hotel in place of the Anna Louise would better serve the city, pointing to a University of Cincinnati study commissioned by Western & Southern that showed a hotel could generate $355 million in economic impact over 30 years.

“Under our proposal, we hope to break even, but the phenomenal benefits to the city are too great to pass up,” Barrett wrote. “No one loses with our proposal.”

He also said the serene and charming neighborhood that Western & Southern shares with the Anna Louise Inn – known as Lytle Park – is better suited to a hotel than the home’s current residents.

Although the Anna Louise began in 1909 as a place for ambitious young women pouring into Cincinnati to work as stenographers, bookkeepers and secretaries, the inn is now a haven for women who are looking to make a new start.

Some, like McCormick, are just coming out of foster care; some have fled abusive relationships; others move there to escape lives of prostitution and drugs. Several have lived there for decades.

“We recognize the Anna Louise Inn’s history and mission,” Barrett said. “But that mission has changed dramatically in recent years. It has changed from providing affordable housing for working women to serving as a homeless shelter and prostitution recovery center. We think the new mission would be better served in another location, which we will help make happen.”

Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and an Anna Louise supporter, rejected the inn’s characterization as a homeless shelter, saying that the women pay rent and that it’s disappointing when Barrett and others at Western & Southern refer to its residents as prostitutes who are bad for the neighborhood.

“It’s an age-old tactic of attacking women – you attack their basic morality,” said Spring, who helped organize the protest. “The truth is everybody knows that Lytle Park is a great place. They’re simply trying to muddy the waters and dirty the names of good people who get in their way.”

Before their fight began, the Anna Louise had considered an offer from Western & Southern to buy the property for $1.8 million, less than half its value. The inn decided against it after winning $12.6 million in federal and state tax credits for a renovation, a decision criticized by Barrett as a taxpayer “bailout.”

Days before the inn was to begin renovating, Western & Southern successfully sued to stop them, arguing that they broke zoning codes.

The Anna Louise has appealed and been rezoned but can’t begin renovating until the court fight is resolved.

Kate Gallion, a member of the newly formed Allies of the Anna Louise Inn, said at the May 8 protest that Western & Southern ultimately will fail

“The goal of Western & Southern, and we know this to be true, is to prolong the legal battle, exhaust our resources, exhaust our time and energy, and that we’ll eventually give up and give them the Anna Louise Inn,” she yelled to the crowd. “We’re here to tell them that’s not going to happen!”

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