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East Hillside building to be sold, gutted

One Roof Executive Director Jeff Corey said the building on the 600 block of East Fourth Street, Duluth, has been under contract to be sold for a long time.

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The East Hillside apartment building that burned Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, sits empty. In August, inspectors found 55 violations. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

A dilapidated building in Duluth’s East Hillside that caught fire Friday is expected to be sold and gutted in the next two to three months.

Jeff Corey, executive director of One Roof Housing, which owns the building on the 600 block of East Fourth Street, said it has been under contract to be sold for a long time, but due to the pandemic and eviction moratorium that was in place, plans were put on hold. Corey said only recently have they been able to start clearing out the building and working with the current tenants to find them new housing with the expectation the building would be vacant by Nov. 30.

Of the 22 units in the building, only four were occupied at the time of the fire, Corey said.

“We are in conversations with folks from the Red Cross that are helping them and doing what we can,” Corey said. “We have been working with tenants for several months in helping them take steps to move. We're continuing to do the things that we can for the folks that are willing to work with us.”

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Jonathan Otis, deputy chief of the Duluth Fire Department, told the News Tribune that after an Aug. 6 inspection, inspectors ordered corrections on 55 violations and several of the units had been condemned for habitation. The building was set to be re-examined Monday.
After Friday's fire, the entire building is condemned due to the lack of utilities.

“We can't really dive in and address all of the violations until the building is empty and under new ownership,” Corey said. “So the scope of work that has been worked up with the new ownership will result in a completely renovated building that has no violations. But you know, in the short term, we just are not able to address all of those things, particularly while we're emptying the building.”

One Roof bought the building in 2016 for $490,000, according to St. Louis County Auditor records. Corey said when they bought the building it was in rough shape and they had every intention of redeveloping the block.

“When we bought the building, there weren't locks on many of the doors. There were tenants who never left because they would get robbed if they left,” Corey said. “So we bootstrapped very modest repairs to try to make it safe and to try to get through until we could either tear the building down or do what we're going to do now, which is sell it and make sure it gets renovated.”

Corey said he is hopeful the purchase agreement will not be affected by the recent fire and will be going through the building with the buyers Tuesday.

As part of the purchase agreement, once rehabilitated, it will be home to affordable housing for the next 20 years with a rental price of 80% of the median income in Duluth, Corey said.

“Community development is challenging work and that building has been sitting there in terrible condition for a really long time,” Corey said. “We're glad to be nearing the end of time when we had to be an owner of it and we're optimistic about what's coming in the future for the building and for the neighborhood.”

One Roof purchased the other half of the 600 block of East Fourth Street about three years ago and has plans in place to develop the block between the former Last Chance Liquor and Sixth Avenue East into a 52-unit affordable housing structure. The units will be priced at 60% of the median income in Duluth. Funding has already been secured for this project, Corey said.

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