Friday, May 24, 2013

Fortune 500 Company Wins Fight To Turn Women’s Safe House Into A Luxury Hotel

The 104-year-old Anna Louise Inn in Cincinnati, Ohio, has long provided a refuge for women struggling to overcome drug addictions or prostitution, escape abusive husbands, or simply get back on their feet. When Western & Southern Insurance Group initially approached them with plans to purchase the safe house several years ago and turn it into a hotel, the Anna Louise declined. Western & Southern sued over a zoning issue, and, after a costly 2-year legal battle, the Fortune 500 company finally bought the house last week for $4 million.

The insurance company initially sued to keep the Anna Louise from using a windfall of tax credits to renovate the home. The federal low-income housing credits required the Anna Louise to use the funds over 30 years, finally giving the struggling house security in the neighborhood. As Cincinnati City Beat reported at the time, Western & Southern’s PAC and the CEO’s family donated heavily to one city council member who changed his vote last minute in an attempt to sabotage the Anna Louise’s development agreement. When it cleared anyway, Western & Southern sued as a stalling mechanism — as long as there was legal action, the Anna Louise would be banned from claiming the much-needed funds. With the credits set to expire at the end of the year, Cincinnati Union Bethel, the nonprofit that runs the Anna Louise, faced the choice of either giving up the house or the funds that could help them set up elsewhere.

Cincinnati Union Bethel told the Associated Press they gave in to the sale because they couldn’t afford to sustain a legal fight with the insurance giant. One woman who took shelter at the house for two years after leaving an abusive relationship explained, “Western & Southern had the money to fight and the Anna Louise Inn didn’t. When you have that much money and you want something, eventually you’re going to get it.”

The two-year legal fight devolved rapidly into nasty attacks on the women at the house. John Barrett, The CEO of Western & Southern, accused the Anna Louise of taking “a bailout” from taxpayers in order to prop up “a homeless shelter and prostitution recovery center.” A key tactic in the company’s crusade against the safe house was to vilify its residents as degenerates who did not belong in the fast-developing neighborhood.

Western & Southern has already bought up a sizable portion of Cincinnati’s historic Lytle Park neighborhood, where the house is located. The company developed Cincinnati’s tallest building in 2011 and plans to turn the Anna Louise into a boutique hotel as it has done with other historic properties in the area. When asked about the public relations cost to his company over the past two years, Barrett told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “If you believe in something, you believe in it. That’s what this company’s always done: stood up for its rights.”

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