Cincinnati City Council Passes Motion That Would House Residents Displaced by Stadium Work

Without a deal providing housing for residents living in buildings purchased by FC Cincinnati, council looks unlikely to approve a zoning amendment the team is seeking

Apr 24, 2019 at 7:19 pm
click to enlarge Kenneth Rhodes faces relocation after FC Cincinnati purchased the building where he resides at 1559 Central Ave. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Kenneth Rhodes faces relocation after FC Cincinnati purchased the building where he resides at 1559 Central Ave.

Cincinnati City Council has passed a motion urging FC Cincinnati to allow residents of a building the team purchased at 421 Wade St. to move into another building it purchased at the same time just down the street at 1559 Central Ave. 

Residents of both properties fear displacement after receiving notices in February that they must leave. The initial deadline for their move was April 30. FC Cincinnati representative Mark Mallory has since said the residents can have more time to move.

It is unclear what the team thinks about the proposal council passed, though FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding has scheduled press availability about the properties the afternoon of April 25.

The team included, then removed, 421 Wade in an amended planned development zoning request that is currently before the Cincinnati Planning Commission. The building is yards away from the coming stadium in the West End. Four households live in the former property.

The building at 1559 Central Ave. has three families living in it and three empty units.

The Planning Commission will likely vote on the amended zoning request May 10. Should they approve it, City Council would also have to vote on it.

Without a deal providing housing for the residents of the buildings, it looks unlikely the zoning change would have enough votes from council.

Among those living in 421 Wade are Mary Frances Page, a 99-year-old woman who is mostly bedridden. Another resident, Gary Shaw, also has mobility issues. Both told CityBeat they would like to remain in the West End for the initial story about the situation earlier this month. 

The former owner of the properties, Fred Berger, initially delivered a 70-day notice to vacate the buildings to residents, though FC Cincinnati has since said it will not enforce that deadline. Residents, however, say they have not heard from the team directly about that.

Council members David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld devised the plan. They, along with fellow Democrats Wendell Young, Greg Landsman and Tamaya Dennard voted to approve it.

Republicans Amy Murray and Jeff Pastor voted against the motion.

Murray said residents should have their concerns addressed individually. Pastor, who called for the vote on the motion that was originally slated to referral to committee next week, did not explain his vote.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman didn't vote due to a conflict of interest — he is related to the owners of Jostin Construction, which is a contractor on FC Cincinnati's stadium. Council member Chris Seelbach was absent because he is officiating a wedding outside the country.

"I don't think what is asked for in this motion is more than what FC Cincinnati can do," Young said, remarking that the city should change its approach to development in low-income neighborhoods.

Landsman reluctantly supported the motion, saying that it was a one-size-fits-all approach when residents may need different solutions.

"Some do want housing that isn't right next to the stadium," he said. "Residents should drive conversation."

Mayor John Cranley raised questions about the proposal — namely, that it is unclear what the team wants to do with the two properties. Murray also said that residents' situations should be handled individually and that the team should be given time to work with each.

Some residents were at the recent council meeting, including 1559 Central Ave. resident Kenneth Rhodes. He and others present said they support the plan as "a compromise," as does the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, which helped organize those living in both properties.

Sittenfeld acknowledged the idea wasn't perfect, but said he and Mann spoke to residents as they were crafting the proposal. The eventual goal, he said, was to find a way to convey ownership of 1559 Central Ave. to an affordable housing provider or community development corporation like Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, which has been representing the West End as stadium construction intensifies. 

"I would be comfortable with the city using funds to buy 1559 Central Ave. and deeding it over to Seven Hills as affordable housing," Sittenfeld said.