DULUTH – Churches United in Ministry (CHUM), a local nonprofit serving the homeless, is planning to buy the downtown Duluth Inn and transform the motel into 45 short-term housing units.
CHUM Executive Director Lee Stuart said Tuesday her organization signed an agreement to purchase the property for $2.65 million from ZMC Hotels.
Stuart said the property, which will be renamed the St. Francis Apartments, will mainly house individuals experiencing homelessness who are elderly or have underlying health conditions. The first floor of the motel has been used to lodge such individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, "and they have thrived," Stuart said.
"We don't have anywhere near the number of housing units in Duluth that we need, so there's not an easy path out for folks at the homeless shelter," Stuart said.
The St. Louis County Board on Tuesday unanimously voted to contribute $1 million in federal CARES Act funds to the purchase. Stuart said the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority and other partners will help CHUM cover the additional purchase costs.
"It's just a blessing in disguise of this pandemic that we're able to help out on a project like this with dollars that are coming from the federal government," County Commissioner Patrick Boyle said at Tuesday's meeting. Officials said the purchase likely couldn't have been considered without the CARES Act.
Stuart said the pandemic has led to an "unprecedented partnership" with the county and the city of Duluth that she expects will continue to benefit communities in need down the road.
Last spring, local governments across Minnesota scrambled to find ways to isolate and quarantine those without a home during the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly those most at-risk of getting seriously ill from the virus. Many turned to hotels.
Some Twin Cities-area counties are still leasing rooms at hotels, and Hennepin County purchased three hotels to house elderly or medically vulnerable homeless people late last year.
"The impact of 40 new units of supportive housing is critical to closing the gap and achieving more stability for really vulnerable people," said Linnea Mirsch, St. Louis County's director of public health and human services.
Stuart said she has identified various public funding streams that will support staff and services at the new apartment. She is hopeful the purchase details will be finalized within the next two months.
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478