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UPDATED: White Earth Nation purchases Ridgeway apartments in Bemidji

The White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has officially purchased Ridgeway Courts I and II in Bemidji, marking a hopeful step in the neighborhood’s future.

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The White Earth Nation has announced that it will soon close its purchase of Ridgeway Courts I and II in Bemidji, with the intention of turning them into a sober-living and supportive housing community.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — The White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has officially purchased the Ridgeway Courts I and II in Bemidji after the sale of the complexes closed on Monday, Oct. 24.

The sale was finalized with the intention of turning the apartment buildings into a supportive and sober living community run by White Earth’s Behavioral Health Department.

“The White Earth Band intends to renovate the buildings to better provide needed re-entry and supportive services for its Band members and other eligible clients,” a release announcing the purchase said. “The White Earth Band envisions the Ridgeway Court property as its future sober-living community.”

The apartments, purchased from NETA Property Management out of Fargo, N.D., had recently become a public concern in Bemidji after one of the buildings had its rental license revoked in May for unsafe conditions.

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Empty apartments in the 2910 Ridgeway Court apartment have been broken into and vandilzed or taken over by squatters.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The remaining three buildings have also experienced increasing levels of disrepair, with broken windows, unsecured apartments lying abandoned and squatters taking up residence.

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After months of uncertainty for the apartments’ residents, White Earth’s purchase seems like a hopeful step for the neighborhood.

In order for the buildings to be renovated, however, the current tenants will likely have to vacate — at least temporarily.

White Earth will give the current residents 180 days to find alternative housing, which they will assist with through coordinating housing partners or applying for sober living.

“We plan to give them ample time,” said White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks. “There are not many residents left. The ones who are have endured the harsh times over there because of the tough housing situation in Bemidji.”

Following those 180 days, renovations will begin to bring the buildings back up to code: repairing walls, windows, doors and safety alarms.

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The security cameras in the 2910 Ridgeway Court apartment have been spray painted over, along with most of the lights being vandalized, leaving only one working light on the second level of the building.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“There’s a lot of things that are going to have to be looked at and tended to, especially with the rehab of some of those apartments,” Fairbanks said. “This is a huge investment for us.”

While an official timeline for the renovations hasn’t been completed, Fairbanks said that the White Earth Band has begun the work and is excited about the partnerships the project will develop.

“We’re looking forward to working with partners in the Bemidji area,” Fairbanks shared. “Not only the police and some of those other public services but other services that can help with homelessness or case management and other functions to help these families.”

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Windows on both floors of the 2910 Ridgeway Court apartment have been broken, giving squatters and vandals easy access to the building leading to unsafe conditions for those still living in the apartment.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Sober living

Fairbanks explained that the interest in purchasing the apartments came from wanting to improve the support systems for families who are in or have graduated from treatment programs.

“Right now we have a waiting list of 30 to 40 families trying to get into our family treatment at Oshki Manidoo,” Fairbanks explained. “One of the other problems that we were dealing with is when they graduate, we had no place for them to go. They were usually moving back to a shelter or the place where they started using.”

The hope is that, once renovated, the Ridgeway apartments will work as a supportive housing tie-in for Oshki Manidoo and similar programs throughout the Bemidji area.

“It’s going to be a place for all,” Fairbanks said. “We’re looking at collaborating with Red Lake, Leech Lake and other entities where people that are going in for family treatment will have a safe place for their families to go.”

The apartments will have 66 units, and Fairbanks hopes that they will become a safe and welcoming neighborhood for everyone.

“That’s the thing we all want: a safe environment and a place where our kids can play outside and not worry,” Fairbanks said.

Fairbanks emphasized that he sees the project as something that will benefit all of Bemidji, both through its supportive services and its prioritization of sober living.

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“I think it’s a good thing not only for White Earth but also for the citizens of Bemidji,” Fairbanks said. “Minobimaadiziwin, the good way of life. We all strive towards that. We all want our families, our children, our grandchildren to have a good life.”

Related Topics: HOUSINGWHITE EARTHBEMIDJI
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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