Whispers, BETHs, ask council to reconsider eviction

A representative from Whispers of Hope will appear before council on Monday

A month before they were due to be evicted from their Riverside Drive location, two organizations serving Grand Forks’ homeless and underprivileged residents are making a play to have city council reconsider.

A representative from Whispers of Hope Benevolence Association is set to appear at the City of Grand Forks council Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday morning, asking council to rescind the six-month eviction notice issued earlier this year. The lease is set to be terminated Feb. 10. The group is requesting that they be allowed to remain in the space until June 2018, the original end date of the lease.

According to the delegation request included in the agenda package, the group is also requesting a new lease to be renegotiated with city council.

Coun. Colleen Ross also has a notice of motion on Monday’s COTW agenda, asking that council extend the time for the organizations to remain in their location until May 1. She writes in her notice of motion that Whispers and BETHs are active in seeking a new location but have not yet found a suitable space.

Included under Ross’ agenda item are emails from Grand Forks Fire/Rescue Chief Dale Heriot and the city’s manager of building inspections Dave Bruce.

In his email, addressed to Chief Administrative Officer Diane Heinrich, Heriot said he has inspected the facility three times since October and while some deficiencies with compliance to the fire code have been corrected, an issue with the range hood failed to be cleaned is ongoing.

According to Heriot, the range hood is in dire need of cleaning and efforts to have it cleaned have stalled.

“As the facility was scheduled to close in February I have been lenient on shutting down the cooking system until it has been cleaned,” Heriot wrote in his email, dated Jan. 4. “Unfortunately the manager has been lax in sourcing out a cleaning company. With a delayed closure and because of the continued risk of fire, I will be forced to shut down the stove and exhaust system until it has been cleaned…”

Bruce also addressed concerns in an accompanying email, noting safety concerns regarding the wiring of the building and the need for an electrical review.

Bruce also wrote about concerns with the occupant load of the building. The load is certified for 10 but Bruce said he “is hearing” that the occupant load in BETHs is usually in excess of 10, and that the building lacks a fire alarm system.

According to a consultant brought in by the city to conduct a building review in the spring, the cost of rehabilitating the building would be around $312,000. At a public meeting in December, Coun. Christine Thompson, when questioned, indicated the city would likely demolish the building when it was vacant due to the high cost of repairs.

“If the occupant load can be maintained at 10 or less, and if the electrical systems are corrected immediately, then I would be comfortable stating the place is safe to occupy for the time being. If this cannot be done, then the place should be vacated now,” Bruce wrote.

Meanwhile, a change.org petition to city council has garnered over 250 signatures opposing the eviction.

The petition is addressed to members of council, including the mayor.

“It is inhumane to take shelter from people who are vulnerable in the coldest months of the year,” the petition reads.

As of Thursday morning, 278 people had signed the petition.

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