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Dave Olson, Published October 13 2010

Moorhead apartments to house homeless

Hundreds of homeless individuals look for a place to stay every night in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

For 24 people, the looking is over.

Marcie Grady is happy to be among them.

“Here’s my stove. I’m going to cook a turkey in it this November,” said Grady, showing off her new apartment with a proprietary air.

“Oh, look how pretty this is,” she added as she slid her hand over a newly installed countertop.

“I feel very secure and safe here. Having a brand new apartment, for someone like me, is a huge blessing,” said Grady, who has lived in homeless shelters like the nearby Churches United for the Homeless.

Most recently, Grady has been living in transitional housing, but she will soon settle into one of 24 one-bedroom apartments in the newly built Gateway Gardens, a complex designed to provide permanent housing for the chronically homeless.

The $3.6 million project was constructed on the site of a former fuel pumping station in the 1800 block of Moorhead’s First Avenue North.

Keeping it ‘green’

About $1 million of the cost went to clean up chemical contamination on the site.

To make sure no problems arise, the building has a special ventilation system that eliminates residual fumes that might seep from the soil.

Efforts were also made to keep the building itself as “green” as possible, and carpeting and other petroleum-based interior features are scarce, said Dara Lee, executive director of the Clay County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which owns and manages the complex.

The majority of Gateway tenants will come from Churches United.

Ten people will move in next week. The remaining 14 units will be filled by residents who are still being selected.

So far, the youngest tenant is 22. The oldest is Bill VanCamp, an 80-year-old who has been living at Churches United.

“In the last year, I’ve been in more of a dorm, with four people in a room,” VanCamp said.

Backgrounds checked

Lee said the complex will be a secure building and staffed 24 hours a day.

Criminal background checks are done on people who apply, and landlord and personal references are also required.

“We have denied a few folks for criminal activities,” Lee said. “With some folks, we put special stipulations in place, like limiting the number of visitors, or the times they can visit.”

Five tenants will be part of a program that requires them to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, which is $521 a month per unit.

Nineteen tenants will have most of their rent covered by the county.

If anyone in the latter group has a source of income, they may keep $89 a month, with the remainder going for rent.

Lee said surveys show that on any given night, there may be more than 700 people in the Fargo-Moorhead living in shelters or on the street.

Clay County’s waiting list for people seeking vouchers to help pay for housing had more than 800 names on it when the list was closed earlier this year.

Lee said the recession has made the homeless situation significantly worse in recent years.

“What we’ve seen is a sharp spike in ’08, ’09, folks who had much decreased income and were coming to us seeking help,” she said.

Gateway Gardens will house primarily singles, but there is a need for family housing, said Lee, who added that the Clay County Housing and Redevelopment Authority hopes to set up an eight-unit residential housing complex in Moorhead that offers two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.

The agency will go before the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency later this month to seek state approval for the complex, which would be located next to supportive housing already in place in the 1800 block of Belsly Boulevard in south Moorhead.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555