The site of a former home in Northwest Minot raises questions about the City of Minot’s flood recovery acquisition programs and demolition procedures.
Acquired by the City of Minot in May of 2015, the home in question was previously located at 708 11th Street NW, outside proposed flood protection structures and near the edge of the 2011 flood’s high water boundary. Though damaged in 2011, it was not abandoned and according to correspondence procured through a Freedom of Information request, the previous owner invested approximately $80,000 cleaning and rebuilding the home following the flood.
In a March 5, 2015, letter written by the estate representative of the former owner to a representative of Witt O’Brien’s, a consulting firm assisting the City of Minot with acquisition of properties following the 2011 flood, the condition of the home was described as follows:
“We are almost completed with the rebuilding project. A few hours of additional work is all that remains to make the home livable again.”
Indeed, pictures taken by Steve Silseth, the son of the former owner, speak to the nearly-finished condition of the home at the time it was purchased by the City.
Circumstances of the Acquisition?
An email inquiry into why the City of Minot purchased the home drew the following response from the City’s Finance Director:
Deemed a blighted property by inspection. City paid $233,795.01. Purchased on 5/12/2015
In correspondence from Witt O’Brien’s to the former owners dated February 27, 2015, the circumstances of the acquisition are explained as follows:
The City has some funding available to purchase properties that meet the established criteria. A review of our records indicates that the property located at 708 11th Street NW, Minot North Dakota 58703 may meet this criteria, and that you are the eligible property owner.
But questions remain as to why the home was deemed ‘blighted’ and what the ‘established criteria’ for acquisition are. The only inspection record provided in the FOIA request for the property dates to June 23, 2014, and describes the condition as “House Secure – grass long but not out of control, small amount of materials and yard tools in back yard.”
The circumstances by which the home ended up on a list of properties in need of demolition is also still in question. Though no additional inspection records exist after the City’s purchase, a permit for demolition was approved on September 22, 2015. On approximately September 30, 2015, the home was demolished.
Following the investigation into this story and the examination of records received in the FOIA request, the following email was sent to the City of Minot seeking official comment:
I’m writing to request official comment from the City.
The house formerly located at 708 11th St. NW was acquired by the City of Minot approximately May 12, 2015. It was then demolished by the City on approximately September 30, 2015.
Per correspondence sent to the prior owner by Witt O’Brien’s, the home was acquired and met the conditions of the “Housing Rehabilitation and Citizen Retention grant”. Would you please comment on the criteria required for acquisition of properties under this program and explain where the money used for this purchase originated?
In an email from the City of Minot’s Finance Director, the property was “Deemed a blighted property by inspection,” but the only inspection report prior to acquisition reads, “House secure – grass long but Not out of control small amount of materials and yard tools in the back yard.” This report dates from June 23, 2014. What does it take for a property to be deemed ‘blighted’ by the city?
The property was demolished on approximately Sept. 30, 2015. Per my investigation through a FOIA request, no additional inspection reports or paperwork exist for the property between acquisition and demolition except for the permit to demolish and the site plan. Would the City care to comment on why the property was demolished or how it came to be on the list of properties in need of demolition?
This story is scheduled for publication on Wednesday, March 9th. If the City’s response is returned to me by the end of work Tuesday, March 8th, the City’s comments will be included.
In email exchanges with the City of Minot’s Public Information Officer on the mornings of March 9th and 10th, the City of Minot indicated it would not be commenting on this story at this time.
Note: since originally published, this story has been edited to provide clarification. Edits are as follows: “In correspondence
between from Witt O’Brien’s and to the former owners dated February 27, 2015, the circumstances of the acquisition are explained as follows:“