Inconsistency found in illegal boarding and halfway house crackdown

Updated: Nov. 12, 2019 at 5:04 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The face of Louisville's crackdown on illegal boarding and halfway houses could be seen at 541 Ormsby Avenue.

“I have Turret’s,” evicted tenant William Johnson said. “Turret Syndrome. I’m disabled. I make $771 a month.”

“We trying to figure out what we gonna do,” evicted tenant Ronnie Wilson said. “It ain’t like we knew what was going on when we moved in.”

The men who live there had just been given 15 days to get out because the owner has been running an illegal boarding house.

“She’s making all this money off them,” neighbor Ian Walton said. “There’s no furnace in the building. There’s roaches in some of the spots.”

Walton was there when the city inspectors posted the eviction.

“One of the guys even said, ‘They should’ve known better,’ talking about the guys living here,” Walton said. “Are you kidding me? How can they know better? How can they victim-blame like that?”

Up to 10 tenants at a time who had each been paying $400 a month for years are now going from no furnace to worse.

“It’s gonna get cold,” Wilson said. “Older guys. Some guys are 70. I’m 58. That’s too overwhelming, man, a blow like that, that quick.”

“Why aren’t we cracking down on the people running them illegally?” Walton asked. “I asked Codes & Enforcement what’s gonna happen to the lady running this and they flat out said, ‘Nothing.’”

The city’s crackdown recently caught up with the halfway house at 1830 Date Street which had been operating illegally for two years despite official appearances there by the top law enforcer in the state, Attorney General and now Governor-elect Andy Beshear.

On Oct. 7, the Kristy Love Foundation tried to get the zoning approval it was supposed to get years ago, but the Board of Zoning Adjustment denied it a permit to operate. Three weeks later, WAVE 3 News took a look to see if anything had changed, and saw a pickup truck bed full of women being dropped off at the Date Street home. So WAVE 3 News had some questions for the founder of the Kristy Love Foundation.

“It appears like women are still living here?” I asked founder Angela Renfro.

“Yes we’re here,” she said.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because we know this is a safe place for women who suffer from prostitution and drug abuse, addiction,” Renfro said.

“But you guys lost,” I said.

“We really didn’t lose,” Renfro said.

“We want our neighborhood back,” neighbor Dino Johnson said. “We tired of the circus. We tired of Kristy Love.”

Johnson said he and other neighbors were in favor of the Kristy Love house when it opened but after what they’ve witnessed since, they believe it’s a fraud.

“She’s talking about what she provides these women,” Johnson said. “These women can’t wash in the house. They got to go to the laundromat to wash. But she has washing machines in the house. She claims these women get three meals a day. They don’t get three meals a day. They can’t cook in the house. She takes the burners off the stoves.”

“I am the ambassador for human trafficking,” Renfro said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I helped over 300 women and children since I’ve been operating. For him to even make an allegation like this and say we are nothing but prostitutes, use drugs, sell drugs, it’s just a disgrace.”

One of the halfway houses WAVE 3 News discovered operating illegally for years in our report on Aug. 6 was the Gratitude House at 26th and Chestnut streets. Nine days later, on Aug. 15, city zoning enforcement inspected it, found violations and ordered them to immediately stop using the property. They took their case to the zoning board on Oct. 7 and like the Kristy Love house that night, they lost, too.

But weeks later, neighbors said it’s still occupied. When WAVE 3 News watched, we saw men coming and going from the house. The operator has not returned our call. He filed an appeal last week.

Our questions to zoning enforcement about all this were referred to Louisville Forward. The communications manager sent a statement saying “We cannot comment on specific cases ... If an applicant continues to operate ... the next step is for Louisville Metro to refer them to the court system. The court would then decide what action to take.”

Back at 541 Ormsby, the evicted tenants weren’t even being given their full 15 days from the eviction notice to get out.

“The police just left,” Wilson said. “They said if anybody is here in this building when they come back, if they show up, take everybody to jail. For what?”

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