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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 09 2010

Cooper House on track

Cooper House, an apartment complex that will house some of Fargo’s chronically homeless population, is on track for opening May 3, officials say.

Interior work on the $3.8 million, four-story building at 414 11th St. N. is well under way. More than half of the drywall work is done, said Lynn Fundingsland, executive director of the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

When it opens, residents of the 10 single-bedroom and 32 efficiency apartments will have a safe place to live, and access to social services and nursing care, Fundingsland said.

That combination should help residents break whatever cycle – be it poverty, drug or alcohol addictions, or mental illness – that has kept them homeless.

“Put them in a house, let them get stabilized, then let them worry about their other issues,” Fundingsland said.

A 2006 survey shows Fargo had about 600 homeless people, with a third of them chronically homeless, said Dan Mahli, a city senior planner for community development.

“We’re hoping we’ll take a chunk out of the long-term chronic population.” Mahli said.

The Southeast Human Service Center in Fargo will provide case workers and counselors, Fundingsland said. Funds are being sought to pay for a nurse from a local hospital. There will also be 24-hour security staff at the building.

“It’s not fair to the tenants or the neighborhood not to have that 24-hour staffing,” Fundingsland said.

Cooper House would have been open a year ago, but the recession hurt the project’s ability to attract financing. Officials had to aggressively seek investors to buy $2.8 million in tax credits, Fundingsland said. The rest of the funding comes from a foundation grant and federal low-income housing money.

“It’s the first project we’ve done where we haven’t had to borrow money on it,” Fundingsland said.

Reaction to news of the shelter was mixed in the neighborhood. Many homes in the area have been converted into rentals and there are several commercial properties in the area.

Two firms, a breadmaker and a liquor distributor, raised concerns about having the shelter built where trucks from their businesses travel daily, Fundingsland said.

Beyond Shelter, the nonprofit development arm of the HRA, arranged financing and oversees construction.

Lisa Rotvold, a real estate development specialist for Beyond Shelter, said there have been many pre-applications for Cooper House. Final applications won’t be taken until February, she said.

Construction has been smooth.

“We have every expectation to be opening our doors the first week of May and moving people in,” Rotvold said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583