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Progress continues on new west-side housing development

BEMIDJI—The next steps are underway for a new, 32-unit supportive housing development in Bemidji.

At Tuesday's Beltrami County Commission meeting, Mary Thompson, operations director for the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, said the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency has approved an application for funding to construct 32 supportive housing units.

The 32 units will be constructed in four buildings and will be called Conifer Villas, named after Conifer Avenue where they'll be built on the west side of the city.

"The next step for us in the process is due diligence," Thompson told the Pioneer. "We have to firm up the project considerations, our numbers and how we're going to operate it. We have to get that completed so we can close on financing."

Supportive housing is classified as a combination of residence and provided services, intended as an effective way to help people live with more stability. Once completed, Conifer Villas will serve as permanent housing for those who've been homeless, or need additional support to be successful, officials said.

The latest development is the second of its kind by HRDC, with the first sitting just south of where Conifer Villas will be built.

That first development, completed in 2012, is Conifer Estates. Located on the west side of Conifer Avenue between 15th Street Northwest and 23rd Street, Conifer Estates cost about $4 million and was filled almost immediately when it opened.

The new project is more than double that cost, coming in at $8.7 million. The majority of the funding is coming from $5.6 million in housing infrastructure bonds and $2.1 million in tax credits. Other sources include sales tax rebates and energy rebates as well as funding from the Red Lake Nation and the Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program.

Along with confirming the finances, Thompson said the HRDC also has to identify the service providers for the development and create a budget. Additionally, because these developments often have subsidized rents, Thompson said supportive services such as rent vouchers have to be identified.

The HRDC is looking to have this phase finished by the end of June so construction can begin in July. The project is anticipated to be finished in spring 2020.

Design-wise, the Conifer Villas will have eight units in each of the four 10,678 square-foot buildings. Each of those units, Thompson said, will have its own entrance, making the development similar to a townhome.

"One of the buildings will also include a community meeting room and there will also be some office and conference space," Thompson said. "The offices will be used by two staff members there, who will assist residents in finding and coordinating with other services to meet their needs."

Another piece of the development, located outside of the buildings, is a new playground between the original and new Conifer complexes.

"South of the lot, we're looking at building a playground on the city-owned property," Thompson said. "We really need to have a playground incorporated, it's really a good practice. Having the units with the potential of families living there, we need a safe site for children to come to play."

Along with the Conifer buildings, another supportive housing complex in Bemidji is the 60-unit Park Place Apartments, located at 598 Third St. on the edge of downtown.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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