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Women sad, angry over sale of nonprofit Ohio home

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm •  Published: May 18, 2013

CINCINNATI (AP) — For more than 100 years, the Anna Louise Inn in downtown Cincinnati has been a safe, serene place that thousands of struggling women came to know as home.

But after losing a two-year fight with a Fortune 500 company determined to buy their beautiful, 104-year-old property and turn it into a boutique hotel — even though it wasn't for sale — the women of the Anna Louise Inn have to leave the neighborhood.

While most of the 60 women living there are relieved that the fight with Western & Southern Insurance Group appears over, they can't help but also feel sad and angry.

"I'm upset with them that they would be that greedy to take away what's been here for so long for women," said Robin Howard, 55, who has lived at the Anna Louise for more than two years after fleeing an abusive relationship. "We have rights, too. This is home. It's a safe haven."

For Wendy Gonzales, 25, the Anna Louise has allowed her to escape an addiction to methamphetamine and an abusive husband who she said forced her into prostitution.

"I thank God for the Anna Louise Inn. Without it, I don't know where I would be," said Gonzales, who now works as a housekeeper at a hotel within walking distance. "It's quiet, it's peaceful. Looking out here, you don't see your average thugs walking down the street. ... It's just nice to walk out and know that you're safe."

The Anna Louise has been housing women since 1909 in the same charming, dormitory-style building that looks like a plantation home. Although it began by helping young, ambitious types who were pouring into then-booming Cincinnati, it later became geared toward women who needed a fresh start; some have left abusive husbands, others are transitioning from foster care to adulthood while others are recovering prostitutes and drug addicts.

The historic downtown Cincinnati neighborhood where the women live, known as Lytle Park, became an important part of their recovery, since most were coming from dangerous parts of the city where it'd be easier to slip back into their former ways of life.

Western & Southern executives, whose headquarters sit across a park from the Anna Louise, offered to buy the Anna Louise for $1.8 million several years ago, less than half its value. The Anna Louise declined and won $12.6 million in federal and state tax credits to renovate the home, where some rooms are smaller than 100 square feet and all the women have to share bathrooms and one kitchen.

Days before the renovation was to begin, Western & Southern sued over a zoning issue and a judge ordered an immediate construction halt until the legal fight was resolved. The Anna Louise and its supporters didn't back down, vowing to fight Western & Southern with everything they had — until last week when they inked a deal with the company to sell the home for $4 million.

Leaders at Cincinnati Union Bethel, the nonprofit that runs the Anna Louise, said they sold reluctantly because they couldn't afford to fight any longer.

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