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Tearing down, building up: New program razes run-down homes to make way for new Habit projects

BETHANY WESLEY | BEMIDJI PIONEER A former rental house at 2609 Irvine Ave. NW was torn down Wednesday to clear the lot for a future Habitat for Humanity home.

BEMIDJI -- Out with the old, to make room for the new.

A former rental house was torn down Wednesday to clear the lot for a future Habitat for Humanity home.

The dilapidated house, located at 2609 Irvine Ave. NW, was the first to be demolished as part of a new initiative to provide housing for low- to moderate-income families.

"It's been a lot of planning and negotiation over the last year to get to this point, the destruction phase," said Aaron Chirpich, development director for the Headwaters Regional Development Commission. "It feels pretty good."

Two other former rental houses, located side by side at the intersection of 10th Street Northwest and Jeanette Avenue Northwest, also are scheduled to be torn down as part of the project, possibly even later this week.

All three were foreclosures, former rentals owned by the same landlord turned over to First National Bank Bemidji.

The HRDC has a still-active program through which the agency purchases foreclosured properties, fixes them up and resells them.

"(About a year ago), we came across several that just were not worth saving," Chirpich said.

That was the impetus for what would become a multi-partner pilot project.

The Northwest Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Housing Partnership provided grants to fund the planning process. The HRDC negotiated with First National Bank to buy the foreclosed properties at a price that would still allow the Northwoods Habitat for Humanity to purchase the lots, once vacant, for redevelopment. Meanwhile, the city of Bemidji provided funds -- stemming from previous state development grants -- to demolish the existing structures.

"On the surface it seems simple -- buy a house, tear it down and have Habitat build a new house -- but there are a lot of things going on in the background," Chirpich said.

Geri Hickerson, executive director of the Northwoods Habitat for Humanity, said the project is a "win-win-win" for everyone, from the HRDC, with its goals of providing low- and moderate-income housing; to the city, which has similar goals as well as a desire to clean up blight; to Habitat, which has struggled to find available vacant lots in the city limits.

Also, because the process and agreements in place can be duplicated by other communities throughout the state, it also is a win for Minnesota as well, she noted.

"We think everybody's interests are covered and it's just been a great relationship," she said.

The plan now is to construct a concrete slab for the new two-bedroom home this fall, cover it, and begin construction in spring. The home is planned for Tayra Nielsen, a single mother.

"It was kind of cool because she has a lot of friends and family that live in the area," Hickerson said. "She's moving into a very supportive neighborhood."

Hickerson said the goal is to complete the house during a weeklong build as part of national Home Builders Blitz week.

"We're just really happy with how the whole thing has progressed," Hickerson said.