The Common Good

No Room at the Inn: Women's Facility Loses Battle With Fortune 500 Company

It’s a hard truth that, in the real world, Goliath sometimes beats David.

Protest in support of the Anna Louise Inn
Protest in support of the Anna Louise Inn

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In the July issue of Sojourners, I wrote about the battle to save the Anna Louise Inn and how Cincinnati’s faith community has come together for the fight. Run by Cincinnati Union Bethel, a small non-profit, the Inn has provided safe and affordable housing for women in the city for 104 years and is one of Cincinnati’s most revered institutions.

But last Monday, Cincinnati Union Bethel announced it was selling the Anna Louise Inn to Western and & Southern Financial Group after a two-year legal battle.

“The needed resources, time and energy to this litigation has diverted focus from our other successful programs,” they wrote on their website. “This settlement and purchase agreement allow us to dedicate ourselves to our mission of serving women and children.”

Cincinnati Union Bethel owns both the Inn and the land on which it sits, but Western & Southern – a Fortune 500 company located across the street – wanted the property to build high-end real estate. So, when Cincinnati Union Bethel received $13 million in federal tax credits to renovate the Inn, Western & Southern sued them and the city of Cincinnati.

All the Inn supporters I interviewed for my article said the same thing: Western & Southern’s lawsuit is frivolous and has no legal basis; what Western & Southern is really doing is dragging out a long and expensive process, eventually forcing Cincinnati Union Bethel to sell the Inn.

So it did not go without notice that the Cincinnati Union Bethel also cited the impending expiration of their tax credits as a reason for settling with Western & Southern.

“Our tax credits … were due to expire at the end of the year and we would have lost the opportunity to fulfill our mission because they can’t be awarded if there is litigation in process,” they wrote in their statement.

Rev. Robert Clary, a retired Presbyterian minister who lives by the Anna Louise Inn, said he views the sale as proof that Western & Southern’s tactic worked.

“The action was not unexpected,” he told me over the phone. “It was my expectation that [Western & Southern] would do everything they could legally to cause the Anna Louise Inn to go bankrupt or sell at the price Western & Southern would agree to.”

Other supporters of the Inn were more surprised. Last week, Troy Jackson, co-director of Ohio Prophetic Voices, sent out an email to Anna Louise Inn supporters expressing his shock and stating that Cincinnati Union Bethel, ultimately, was no match for Western & Southern’s vast resources.

“The Inn and Cincinnati Union Bethel faced an existential crisis,” he wrote. “They were forced out of their current location, but the alternative was to continue to fight years of legal battles and end up a broken agency. There is only one thing for sure: this is far from the ‘Win-Win’ John Barrett claims it is.”

And, indeed, Western & Southern’s CEO is touting the sale as such.

“We’ve been hoping for this for a long time, it makes such sense,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Other than pride, there are no losers.”

The women of the Anna Louise Inn will not be homeless; Cincinnati Union Bethel is using the money from the sale and their tax credits to build a new facility in a new neighborhood. But as Rev. Clary put it, the entire of Cincinnati has been a made a loser on principle.

“It’s sad. The Barretts are people who are doing what corporate America across the country is doing, which is attempting to set the agenda and control the cities,” he said.

Currently, Western & Southern plans to turn the former Anna Louise Inn into an upscale hotel that will accompany seven new restaurants, a new parking garage, and a new headquarters building for Western & Southern.

John Barrett has said that after the new development projects are complete, people will be so amazed by them, they will simply forget the “consternation” beforehand. He, personally, as he said in an interview with the Enquirer, dwells “so little on the past it would blow your mind.” 

But Cincinnati’s faith community has already stated it will not forget. Furthermore, this set back as not deterred them from the fight against corporate greed.

“The positive thing that came out of this,” Clary said, “was that there is now a coalition of people within the city of Cincinnati and surrounding areas that has committed to the fight against the corporate takeover of Cincinnati. And we will continue as long as we have life.”

Dawn Araujo is Editorial Assistant at Sojourners.

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