Residents face uncertain future

In Bemidji, 47 tenants were recently evacuated from a federally subsidized apartment building that inspectors feared could be headed toward catastrophic […]

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In Bemidji, 47 tenants were recently evacuated from a federally subsidized apartment building that inspectors feared could be headed toward catastrophic structural failure. Two dozen former tenants were in hotels as of mid-July. Others are temporarily staying with family or waiting for assisted living beds. 

The northern Minnesota city, in one of the state’s poorest counties, has a debilitating shortage of affordable housing. The situation with Red Pine Estates, a three-story privately owned property where the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a rental assistance payment contract, sheds light on a number of issues affecting poor, older or disabled Minnesotans. 

One is the much-discussed statewide shortage of affordable housing. The state has a 100,000-unit supply gap of homes affordable to lower-income Minnesotans. One community development specialist in Bemidji cited a recent study that showed the city of 15,000 is short 900 affordable units. 

Then there’s the ambiguous regulatory positioning of the building — eldercare advocates have been pushing for state Health Department oversight on similar buildings since a 2019 law established a statewide assisted-living licensure program. 

The majority of residents at Red Pine Estates are elderly, disabled or both. Though it’s an independent-living complex, many receive home health care with regular visits from personal-care assistants. Because it’s not an assisted-living building, it is not regulated by the Minnesota Department of Health. 

Amanda Vickstrom, executive director of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, has been among a group of advocates saying properties like Red Pine Estates ought to be regulated as assisted-living facilities. Property owners have resisted those extra regulations, which could mean more frequent inspections and guidelines for planned or emergency closures that would provide extra support for tenants. 

Jennifer Ho, commissioner of Minnesota Housing, the state’s housing finance agency, said situations like the one in Bemidji illuminate the blurry line between two regulatory environments. 

“The housing universe and the health-care universe are two separate universes that collide,” Ho said. “They’re not governed or managed as things that intersect. The health-care system doesn’t have a great track record on managing people’s housing.” 

In a statement, the property management company, Twin Cities-based Schuett Cos., called the building’s issues and the sudden evacuation unique, saying structural integrity concerns stemmed from building components blocked from view by things like drywall and ceilings. 

In a statement, Schuett Cos. said representatives have been working “around the clock” to help and they’re optimistic all residents will find long-term housing soon. 

(Source: Star Tribune) 

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