CINCINNATI - Residents of the Anna Louise Inn are continuing their fight against Western & Southern, taking their claim against the financial giant to federal court on allegations that the company is attempting to bully them from their home and violating their civil rights.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Friday morning by 16 of the Inn's residents, claims that Western & Southern is engaging in an active campaign to force them from their home at the Inn, a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.
In the claim, the residents accuse Western & Southern of: "vilifying the female residents of the Anna Louise Inn, photographing residents without their permission, falsely accusing residents of the Anna Louise Inn of engaging in criminal activity and other ‘inappropriate behavior' in the neighborhood."
The suit also claims that Western & Southern has "encouraged business entities and community organizations to oppose the Financing Subsidy of the Inn on the grounds that Anna Louise Inn is detrimental to the well being and development of downtown Cincinnati" and that the company has "engaged in frivolous challenges to the approval by the Historic Review Board and has frivolously challenged the building permit for these renovations."
Western & Southern officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday.
The 102-year-old Anna Louise Inn, run by Cincinnati Union Bethel, is located in Lytle Park in Downtown. The building was donated by Charles Taft and his wife, and named for their daughter, Anna Louise Taft Semple. At that time, women were coming to the Queen City looking for employment and educational opportunities, and the Tafts sought to give these women a safe and affordable place to live.
Today, the Inn is home to about 50 residents, providing them with various support services, including educational support and mental health services. In 1994, the Inn began welcoming homeless families, and in 2005, it began its Off the Streets program geared toward helping female prostitutes get support to begin a new life.
The Inn has been home to hundreds of women, including Bev Chapman, one of the plaintiffs.
"This is my home and I'll do whatever I can to save it. I have friends here. This place was a godsend for me," said Chapman.
In 2010, the Inn was awarded $13 million in federal tax credits, some coming from the City of Cincinnati, to renovate the historic building, converting its current dormitory-style housing units with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities into 85 small efficiency apartments that would accommodate 110 residents, including 25 residents in the Off the Streets program.
Construction for that renovation was scheduled to begin this summer and be completed by Fall 2012, but a lawsuit brought by Western & Southern in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in an effort to block those tax credits and challenging the Inn's building permits has halted that progress.
Western & Southern has been seeking to take over the property, with some speculating that it plans to build high-rise condominiums or other high-end retail on the location, which it has previously said would be in the better interest of the city. The Inn currently pays no property taxes, so any retail or residential space built by Western & Southern would increase the amount of tax revenue coming into Cincinnati.
The plaintiffs' attorney Robert Newman said the residents simply want to stay in their home.
"The Anna Louise Inn has been in its only location adjacent to Lytle Park for 102 years and its residents do not want to move. They regard the Anna Louise Inn as their home. This is about protecting their rights."
The residents are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.