FC Cincinnati, West End Residents Reach a Deal

Residents will get longer to stay in their apartments and relocation assistance, as well as efforts to create replacement affordable housing

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click to enlarge Mary Frances Page and her niece Kim Dillard - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Mary Frances Page and her niece Kim Dillard

The contentious battle over the fate of people living in two West End buildings purchased by FC Cincinnati earlier this year appears to have reached a resolution — just a day before residents were slated to be out of those buildings.

Attorneys for the team and for residents announced they had reached a deal May 30 after a frenzied round of talks. The details are confidential, but the broad strokes of the deal mean the residents will be able to stay in their apartments until early next year as efforts are made to replace their affordable units.

That agreement netted FC Cincinnati key zoning change approvals and sale of public land from Cincinnati City Council the same day.

About half of the roughly 14 residents living at 421 Wade St. and 1559 Central Ave. were still looking for housing leading up to the deal. 

All the residents of those buildings received 70 days notice in February that they would need to vacate the properties because FC Cincinnati had purchased them the month prior.

Among those residents are 99-year-old Mary Frances Page, who has lived at 421 Wade St. for at least 15 years; Crystal Lane, who lives at 1559 Central Ave. with her four children; and Ken Rhodes, who also lives at 1559 Central.

“It’s been hell,” Rhodes said, explaining that he had been to the hospital recently due to health problems he believes stem from stress related to the situation. 

Rhodes says he is confident he’ll be able to stay in the West End under the deal, though he also says he wishes he didn’t have to move from his current apartment.

Kim Dillard, Page’s niece and caretaker, said she and her aunt feel drained by the months-long process.

“I’m glad it’s over,” she said.

Does she think the end result is fair? 

“It’s going to have to be,” Dillard said.

Sources familiar with the deal say residents will be allowed to stay in their buildings until Jan. 31 while the team and other partners, including the city, the Port and Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses work together on replacing their affordable housing. 

Residents will also receive an unspecified sum for relocation, the amount of which will be contingent on the replacement housing.

Council members, residents and their attorney wouldn’t go into details about the agreement.

Residents have been living in fear of being kicked out of their housing, but that’s over now, their attorney, John Schrider of Legal Aid, said.

“We have signed an agreement with FCC,” he told council. “In terms of the specifics, the team asked that the specifics not be disclosed. The deal includes more time before the residents have to move, substantial relocation assistance and special moving costs covered.”

That last point is a reference to 99-year-old Page, who is bedridden.

The agreement was unanimous among the remaining residents of the buildings, Schrider said.

“What matters most is that the residents can breathe a bit easier knowing that they can stay where they are and that we’re all going to work together on safe and quality replacement housing,” said council member Greg Landsman, who helped convene meetings between residents and the team. “I’ve always believed that a whole host of things go into a resolution like this, but getting everyone to work together and keeping them working together makes a huge difference.”

Negotiations between residents and the team have been fitful. The team had offered to let residents stay through October and give them $2,500 in relocation expenses if they promised to move out after that date. 

Residents, however, wanted another deal that would have had the team converting 1559 Central Ave. into affordable housing for all the residents of both buildings and transferring it to Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses to keep as affordable housing.

Cincinnati City Council backed that deal with a motion, but it was a no-go, the team said.

The team hasn’t said why it needs the buildings, but it has purchased a large swath of land around them, including a neighboring Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall and other properties. Schrider, the residents’ attorney, says the team has plans for mixed-use development without affordable housing at the site. FC Cincinnati representatives say they don’t know yet what they will use the properties for and that former owner Fred Berger approached the team about buying them.

The team extended the original April 30 move out deadline for residents until May 31. As that date approached, no deal had been struck between the two parties, and the residents’ attorney said the team threatened evictions.

Eviction proceedings could have cost residents their Section 8 vouchers. 

“Most of us are fortunate we’ve never had that gun held to our heads,” Council member P.G. Sittenfeld said during Cincinnati City Council’s meeting. “FC Cincinnati could send someone up to the microphone now to assure that eviction proceedings wouldn’t begin after tomorrow.”

At the meeting, FC Cincinnati attorney Tom Tepe responded that he wasn’t authorized to promise that.

Dozens of advocates for the residents flooded into council chambers urging council members to vote against zoning approvals and sale of a small portion of city land the team says it needs to move forward with construction of its stadium.

“Housing is a human right,” said Mona Jenkins, Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition’s director of development and operations. “Have you ever received an eviction notice on your door? Do you understand the anguish they are going through?” 

Jenkins urged council to “get it together and do better.”

Council originally delayed considering three measures related to the team’s stadium in the West End, including approval of the sale of city-owned right-of-way at West 15th Street and Nome Alley.

After the residents and FC Cincinnati reached a deal, council unanimously approved those items. 

The team says it needs that land sale and related zoning changes; without them, FC Cincinnati representatives say, construction activities will halt within 30 days.

“We are excited about clearing another major hurdle in our historic privately funded stadium project to bring jobs, investment and excitement to our hometown,” FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said in a statement May 30. “I am pleased that we reached agreement with the tenants in the buildings FCC has purchased. 

“We were always sensitive to their fears and worked in good faith for over a month to address their concerns,” he continued. “Today’s deal will give them more time and new resources to make a fresh start as they relocate. Councilman Landsman in particular deserves credit for his hard work and determination to get this done today to take care of the tenants and keep the project on schedule for all the construction jobs on site.”

Not everyone was thrilled with the confidential nature of the deal — especially some council members poised to vote on the city land sale and zoning changes.

“We were lied to,” council member Chris Seelbach said after revelation a deal was reached, referring to promises by FC Cincinnati leadership that the team would not displace any West End residents. “We were told nobody would be displaced. We have no idea what deal was struck.”

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