Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Progress" v. The Metropole Tenants Association (Part I)

I've been wanting to write about the coming conversion of the Metropole (located on Walnut between Sixth and Seventh) to a luxury hotel for some time. (Background: Enquirer; Streetvibes.) I've been reluctant to, for fear of what will appear in the comments. I don't want to feed the trolls who regularly comment in order to insult poor people. I also suspect, though, that the overwhelming part of our readership is fairly unsympathetic to the Metropole's tenants. Many of our readers consider themselves "urban pioneers" (a term I find patently offensive) who are somewhat sympathetic to the poor--so long as they don't have to live, eat, work, play, or pray alongside the poor. I'm a little afraid of what you'll have to say, too.

For me, this episode in the development of downtown Cincinnati raises three issues: the merits of the dispute between the tenants of the Metropole and the new owner of the building; the role and power of 3CDC in downtown development; and the role of Legal Aid in the provision of services to the indigent. I'll tackle each in turn over two posts.

1. Who's right: the tenants, or the landlord? Like most things, this isn't as black-and-white as those on either side of the dispute would have you believe. If the complaint to HUD is accurately described by the Enquirer (in other words, if the complaint really alleges that 3CDC is discriminating against the tenants because most are elderly or African-American), my guess is that it lacks much merit. I don't think 3CDC cares much about the age or race of the tenants it is displacing. Instead, 3CDC has a vision for downtown and this project is part of that vision, regardless of the tenants who are tossed out on the street. Remember, 3CDC's plans also call for the "relocation" of two commercial tenants, neither of whom--so far as I know--are owned by people who are minorities, elderly, or indigent.

But the tenants need to be treated with respect. To the extent that isn't happening, 3CDC should be ashamed. Federal law requires that a process be followed before federally-subsidized tenants can be displaced. The tenants' fear and anxiety is certainly understandable. I'm not indigent, and if my landlord announced that my building were closing in the next twelve months, I'd be apprehensive, too (I hate moving!), and I have the resources to find my own place. 3CDC claims that it will make sure it follows the law and that it will find appropriate new residences for the Metropole's tenants. I hope it keeps its word.

Ultimately, the question comes down to this: once a landlord accepts federal housing money, does that act as some sort of covenant that runs forever against the building, regardless of ownership? Certainly, that cannot be the case. Property owners must be free, assuming they follow the law, to opt out of Section 8. Take care of the tenants, but don't demonize the building's ownership for deciding to go in a new direction.

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