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Tenants hear options after staircase of Cloquet apartment building declared unsafe

Tenants on two floors of Victory Apartments have until June 1 to vacate due to an unsafe staircase. They attended a meeting with local agencies to learn about their options moving forward.

apartment meeting
On Monday, April 18, 2022, residents of Victory Apartments listen to and speak with representatives from the Cloquet/Carlton Housing & Redevelopment Authority, Legal Aid and other agencies about their options after the apartment building received an occupancy revocation from the city of Cloquet.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CLOQUET – Residents of Victory Apartments gathered before a group of city and county officials Monday, April 18, to listen to the options they have after the building they live in received an occupancy revocation from the city of Cloquet.

Cloquet declares apartments unfit for human habitation

Victory Apartments, located at 17 8th St., received notice on April 7 that the top two floors of the building are unfit for human habitation because the rear staircase is not safe.

The city had initially placed an order for repair on the staircase in September 2020, but repairs have not been started.

Residents on those two floors have until June 1 to move out, unless the landlord remedies the problem.

Representatives from Cloquet, Carlton County, Legal Aid, Salvation Army and more were present for the meeting and offered options to the people who attended.

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Debra Shaff, executive director of the Cloquet/Carlton Housing & Redevelopment Authority, opened the meeting saying those present were there to talk about options for the tenants should the landlord not correct the staircase before the deadline.

The current housing availability in Carlton County makes the situation more difficult for the tenants affected.

"Unfortunately we have no vacancies in any of our programs at this time," she said.

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However, those interested in applying for the programs would have “extra points” due to the nature of the case that would see them move a little higher up the list. That would put them anywhere from 18 to 24 months out, Shaff said.

“We’ve never had this many (people from one building) affected,” she said. "It'll be a challenge."

Because it is low-income housing, it can sometimes be hard to get other landlords to rent their properties, she said.

Looking for housing is also a full-time job, according to Shaff, who said to those in attendance should start looking every day.

Cloquet City Councilor Chris Swanson attended the meeting and said he hopes the issue can be resolved as quickly as possible so the residents can be taken care of.

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“This is a recurring issue, and we need more affordable options,” he said. "This is pretty unfortunate, the building owner has a pretty clear responsibility to take care of the people that live in that apartment building."

Swanson was grateful to see the agencies at the meeting providing their support and resources to the residents affected.

Roger Bruhn, the owner of the building, did not attend the meeting, but spoke to the Pine Journal last week about the issue.

Bruhn said the repair costs are estimated at $80,000, when the total value of the building is $300,000.

Financing the costs is still an issue, but Bruhn said he is still looking at options to get repairs started.

Katrina Gomez, a resident of the building, said the meeting was beneficial for her, and she was thankful there are people who want to help.

"It was good for myself ,as I am on the programs already," she said.

Gomez said from her personal experience, the staircase is not safe and she felt better about her options after the meeting.

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Another resident, Zach Stirewalt, said the meeting went about as he expected.

“I expected waiting lists ... but they are not giving us enough time,” he said.

Stirewalt lives in the building with his girlfriend and three pets — a dog, a tortoise and a snake — and said many residents have dogs or multiple pets like he does.

He moved into the building in July 2021, and said he had no idea about the ongoing issue with the staircase.

To him, the issue came up out of the blue and now he has to try and find a new place to live by June 1.

Stirewalt was pleased an attorney from Legal Aid was at th e meeting to help him understand the options he has when it comes to assistance.

The other options, while nice, aren't going to work because of long waiting lists, Stirewalt said.

“It would be helpful, but the problem is there is no housing in Carlton County,” he said.

With his rent being one of the lowest in the city, he said there aren't many other viable options without assistance.

Stirewalt said he believes he has a place to fall back on, but is more concerned about the other tenants in the building who might have to be homeless if they are forced to move out and are stuck on a wait list for other assistance programs.

"They are going to be on the streets for six to eight months before they get anything taken care of," he said. “Given the housing options in Carlton County, they should be giving us more time."

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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