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The path of progress leads through Charlene Fogle’s living room.

Fogle and 11 families living in the 1000 block of North 30th Street are fuming after receiving eviction notices three weeks ago. The homes they rent from Deaconess Billings Clinic will be bulldozed in September to make room for the hospital’s proposed $2.6 million research center.

Fogle and other residents say the hospital has known about plans to build for months. Rental markets in Billings are tight – especially for two-child, two-cat families such as Fogle’s. At least four of the families erected protest signs Sunday. One read: “Never fear, we’re homeless here.”

A Deaconess employee removed the signs later that day, saying they were on private property, Fogle said.

“We’re not out to get Deaconess. It’s just so hard to get affordable housing in this town,” she said.

The houses are owned by Deaconess and located in the heart of Billings’ booming medical corridor.

Deaconess announced plans last week to start construction on a two-story, 14,400-square-foot research center in early September. The building will be at North 30th Street and 11th Avenue North. Construction is expected to be completed next spring.

Tenants said they met with Deaconess officials in December to complain about maintenance problems on their houses. Nothing was mentioned at the meeting about plans to bulldoze their homes in less than a year, said Marti Christie, who has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years.

“What we would have liked is more notice,” she said.

Original plans were for the research facility to be built outside of the downtown medical corridor, said Rod Schaffer, the clinic’s executive director of facility services. As soon as plans changed, residents were contacted.

“In an effort to keep our renters well informed about these new plans, we contacted one of the long-term renters who is an advocate for the neighborhood prior to the time our board of directors voted on the project,” Schaffer said.

Under the lease agreements, Deaconess only needed to give 30 days notice. The clinic gave 60 days notice, plus offered to help the tenants find new homes, Schaffer said.

Fogle began renting from Deaconess two years ago. She hoped to find a stable home for her two children, one of whom has learning disabilities.

“Had I known that these were going to go down, I wouldn’t have rented this,” she said.

The eviction notice has thrown her teenage son into a tailspin. He stopped taking his medication recently.

“He ended up in the hospital because of this, because of a nervous breakdown,” Fogle said. “He doesn’t do well with change.”

Schaffer said Deaconess would work to help the tenants but also added that expansion plans in the medical corridor should come as no surprise.

“As a community partner, we have tried to rent these properties at reasonable monthly rents over the years, knowing that one day these renters would have to relocate as the medical corridor expands,” Schaffer said. “Deaconess Billings Clinic will do everything we can to help our neighbors.”

James Hagengruber can be reached at 657-1232 or at jhagengruber@billingsgazette.com

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