CINCINNATI — After weeks of bitter public back-and-forth, FC Cincinnati and a group of displaced West End tenants reached an agreement just hours before what Ken Rhodes called “D-Day” — the date he and his neighbors would have to pack their apartments and leave with nothing, per the team’s ultimatum.
They walked away from the table Thursday with more than that, but Rhodes and others said they weren’t happy. Although the team agreed to give them until Jan. 31, 2020 to leave and to pay them an undisclosed sum for relocation expenses, they still felt as though their hands were forced.
“Tomorrow was D-Day, either we do it or we get evicted,” Rhodes said, later adding: “It was straight hell, and it’s not over yet. We still have to find a place to move.”
The team purchased two West End apartment buildings — 421 Wade St. and nearby 1559 Central Ave. — in late 2018. Both are located near the incomplete $250 million Major League Soccer stadium FC Cincinnati will make its permanent home but not inside the “stadium footprint,” where the actual structure will go. (The team has suggested one will become handicap-accessible parking.)
Tenants learned in February they would be required to move out by the end of April. The most visible early resistance came from the family of 99-year-old Mary Frances Page, who had lived in the Wade Street building for 15 years and seldom left her bed. Her niece, Kim Dillard, argued Page had specialized medical needs and that the 70-day deadline was not enough to find suitable housing.
“I know that the city has to advance,” Dillard said then. “I don’t have a problem with that. That’s life. But the way it was done, that’s what I have a problem with.”
Other voices soon joined hers — among them other tenants such as Crystal Lane, who has four children, and community activists such as Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition head Josh Spring.
By the time the team promised to exempt Page from eviction, the conversation had grown too big to be contained by one fix. City Council got involved, suggesting the team commit to making the Central Avenue building housing for all the displaced people. Deadlines were shifted. Fruitless meetings were held. Team president Jeff Berding described Spring as a “professional troublemaker” and accused him of fomenting resistance among the tenants by convincing them to hold out for more money.
He also said the team had purchased the two buildings fairly and had a right to use the space as it wished.
"We are not Section 8 landlords," Berding said on one occasion. "We are a soccer team, and we're building a stadium."
On another: “We’re wiling to pay for folks’ moving costs. We’re willing to give them additional dollars in order to support the transition, but at the end of the day we were told that some folks had been advised that they had lottery tickets, and that’s certainly not the case.”
Berding did not publicly comment on Thursday’s deal to WCPO but privately confirmed the team had reached an agreement with the tenants.
Dillard, whose complaint started the outcry, said the solution didn’t satisfy her.
“We accepted an offer to avoid eviction,” she said.
She hopes her public battle with the team will underline the importance of ensuring Cincinnati has affordable housing and that people who need it deserve better than eviction.
“With the houses that’s being demolished, taken away, they’re not replacing anything,” she said. “(People) are not going to have any place to stay, so we need FC to do what they said they’re going to do.”
“The little bit of money they’re going to give us ain’t worth what they’re doing to us,” he said.