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Bemidji's housing top of mind in State of the City

Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince delivers the annual State of the City address from the lectern on Feb. 20, 2024.
City of Bemidji
Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince delivers the annual State of the City address from the lectern on Feb. 20, 2024.

Later in the meeting, the Bemidji City Council voted to eliminate online meeting participation after a "Zoom bombing" on Feb. 5.

BEMIDJI — Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince recently recapped 2023 and looked ahead to 2024 in the annual State of the City address.

Prince highlighted new businesses, new events and the various projects the city completed over the last year.

Looking ahead, housing continues to be a top priority. In recent years, multiple apartment buildings, most of which were low-income housing units, were shuttered by building officials due to unsafe conditions. Prince said the city is committed to being proactive in creating more affordable housing units.

"There are lessons to be learned from the events that took place at Ridgeway and Red Pine Apartments, and with building costs continuing to escalate, it's unlikely that affordable housing projects will happen without some form of public sector assistance," Prince said. "It is my hope that as we move forward, our city can find new and creative ways to partner — with housing agencies, state and federal government entities and local developers — to help create more housing opportunities for citizens."

A recent Bemidji Pioneer article points to more apartment buildings falling into disrepair within the last year. The report by Nicole Ronchetti highlights conditions at Pine Ridge and Century apartments, both managed by the Moorhead-based Tandem Properties. The article also raises concerns that these buildings may deteriorate like Ridgeway did in 2022.

The Bemidji City Council meeting last week included a continuation of the Feb. 5 meeting that ended abruptly due to a "Zoom bombing," where unknown online attendees interrupted with racial slurs and other offensive language. The Council then discussed whether to allow online participation in meetings.

Council member Josh Peterson voiced that online participation was borne out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic and that government got along just fine without it before.

"Government has functioned centuries, and [our city] has gone 127 years, without having to have meetings on the web and functioned great," Peterson said.

"This was all a product of COVID, and people have abused it. There's been abusive names and derogatory names on there, and we can't really censor how they name themselves when they come online."

After an initial failed 3-3 vote to discontinue Webex access, the council voted 5-1 to discontinue online meeting participation, with exceptions granted to Council members on request. The Council will discuss the issue again in a later work session.

Meetings will continue to be streamed live on cable access and online, where they’re also archived.

Bemidji City Council meets again on Monday.

Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.