The White Earth Nation finalized the purchase of four troubled apartment buildings in Bemidji on Monday with plans to rehab the properties and turn them into a sober-living environment.
The conditions at Ridgeway Court I & II have deteriorated rapidly over the past year after the previous owner, North Dakota-based NETA Property Management, effectively abandoned the properties. The situation was the subject of a Reformer story in August.
Residents complained for months about squatters taking over vacant units, where they smashed windows, stole appliances and copper pipes and used drugs.
The city condemned one of the buildings in May, forcing the remaining residents to move. Other buildings were close to being deemed uninhabitable. In order to stave off a mass eviction in a city with little affordable housing, the city inspector condemned units one at a time.
White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks said the 66 units will fill a critical need for sober housing for people transitioning out of in-patient chemical dependency treatment. Both White Earth members and non-tribal members will be eligible to live at the properties.
The tribe currently operates a family treatment center in Bemidji — the Oshki Manidoo “New Spirit” Center — but people graduating from the program often don’t have a supportive environment to move to.
“How can you get better and then go back to the place where you got sick? It doesn’t make sense,” said Fairbanks, who noted his own long-term sobriety. “We’re trying to get them back on their feet and get them back into a regular lifestyle.”
White Earth’s Behavioral Health and Human Services Division will manage the properties and provide on-site supportive services such as counseling to residents.
The location in Bemidji will also give people in early recovery greater access to jobs and educational opportunities than on White Earth’s rural reservation.
The apartments were previously subsidized through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides low-interest, long-term loans to landlords. NETA Property Management had a 1% interest, 50-year loan on the properties.
Most residents have already moved out of the properties, fleeing the deplorable conditions. Yet other residents have struggled to find alternative housing that they can afford.
The residents that remain will have 180 days to move out, and the tribe said it will help connect them to services and to find other housing. They may also apply to continue living at the property with White Earth.
In the interim, the tribe says it will provide security at the property to ensure only lawful tenants have access to the buildings.