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HRDC, Habitat partner to demolish dilapidated homes

Aaron Chirpich, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission development director, stands in front of a dilapidated house on the corner of 10th Street Northwest and Jeannette Avenue Northwest. The HRDC is partnering with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to demolish foreclosed homes to provide a vacant lot for a new house.

BEMIDJI -- Demolish, acquire, build.

Those are three seemingly simple steps that a new program will follow in order to provide homes to low-income families in Bemidji.

The Headwaters Regional Development Commission is launching a new program in which it provides funds to demolish vacant dilapidated homes. Northwoods Habitat for Humanity will then buy the vacant lot to build a new home.

Aaron Chirpich, HRDC development director, said they currently have three houses picked out for demolition, with the goal of demolishing three more in the future. He hopes to begin by the end of July.

"We've struggled in the past to find lots to build on," said Northwoods Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Geri Hickerson. "When this package of three came up we were like, 'Wow this is a great opportunity for us.'"

The first three homes are all foreclosed property owned by First National Bank. Chirpich said they were rental homes that the owner failed to keep up to code.

"(Habitat is) purchasing (the property) from First National at a very reduced cost," said Chirpich, who commended the bank for that. "Habitat is buying them for what they could buy a vacant lot for...they have no use for the vacant structure of course."

Hickerson said the work between all the organizations involved in the project represents "great collaboration."

Chirpich went before the Bemidji City Council in May requesting some of the city's program income funds, which come from money that was paid back from previous state development grants. The council approved giving up to $45,000 worth of those funds to the HRDC for the project.

"This is an eligible activity because it has a benefit to low and moderate income families," Chirpich said. "(The city) can't use them for whatever they like, so they need partners like the HRDC to find eligible uses."

The program is new to the HRDC, but it came about through another initiative in which they rehab foreclosed homes and resell them to families.

"And through that effort, we came across all these efforts that weren't worth saving but we wanted to find a solution," Chirpich said. The HRDC then received a planning grant from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Housing Partnership, leading to the pilot demolition program currently underway, he added.

Chirpich said if they are successful, it could help them receive future state grants.

"This is a new initiative for us, certainly," Chirpich said. "If we can pull this off and prove that we have a successful model, we're going to include it in future (state grant) applications."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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