The event was then handed over to moderator Emma Kasiga who led the panelists through introductions and a series of questions. This is a short summary of their conversation.
MODERATOR Emma Kasiga: “Panelists, please share a bit about yourself, your organization, and what motivated you to do this work.”
Stephanie Hoff: “I am the Director of Communications for Otter Tail Power Company. We are headquartered in Fergus Falls Minnesota, but we serve approximately 75,000sq/mi which means parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Being a part of the communities that we serve, being active, being engaged, supporting development, all of the things that help to maintain vitality and viability in our very rural footprint are very important to my company and to me…”
Abdirahin Hussen: “I’m the Regional Manager for African Development Center in Central Minnesota. I work with ADC the last five years; we’re working through homebuyer processes, home search classes, constant one-on-one. We are helping the community every single day… We grow business and increase investment in the African community of Minnesota. Thank you so much.”
Ali Joens: “I am the Director of Homeownership Services at the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. The housing partnership provides housing opportunities throughout southwest and south-central Minnesota. We provide education, counseling, down payment programs, rehabilitation programs, single family development, community planning, multifamily development, and supportive services… I do this because I love watching the keys being handed to a new homeowner. The emotions of a family, the kids fighting for a certain bedroom, the crying and hugs as they walk off to their first home.”
Mayor Emily Larson: “I am the Mayor of Duluth MN… Happy habitat day, happy home security day, happy let’s get everybody housed, secure, and safe day! I’m very passionate about housing. I have been for my entire career… My previous career was in social work, and I did work providing services to people who are living with homelessness, experiencing home insecurity, or in transition of housing security so that was the passion of my work… As Mayor I’ve served on the Governor’s task force for housing actually with Senator Draheim who you heard from earlier…. I am here for this discussion because I am incredibly passionate about insuring everybody, every family, every senior, every kid, have a place to go home to at night…”
Marisa Sauceda: “I am the Executive Director of the Red River Valley Habitat for Humanity that serves Polk County MN and Grand Forks County North Dakota… I’m particularly interested in breaking the cycle of poverty and I think the homeownership is a great way to do that. I even did my masters paper on the topic of the effects of stable, safe, affordable housing, or lack thereof, on a household’s wealth, health and educational attainment. And I’m currently in my first year of law school studying property and human rights law, so I’m really excited to be here.”
MODERATOR Emma Kasiga: “Our panel today is focused on how affordable homeownership is the cornerstone to economic stability. We are aiming to highlight how this is demonstrated around our great state of Minnesota… Mayor Emily, perhaps you could start us off by sharing a bit about what you see in Duluth and why the city is utilizing some of its Covid response resources to invest in affordable housing.”
Mayor Emily Larson: “Here in Duluth, housing is really an issue on many many levels. We are a land dense city. We have an extremely large number of parks, creeks, and undevelopable land. We are a bit land locked in a beautiful way by Lake Superior. Development can be a little more difficult here for some of those reasons… About 55% of our households are homeowners and about 45% are renters. So, we have a need to advance affordability in both categories. We received about $57 million in covid support funding and relief funding. We are using $19 million of it. So more than a third of it we are applying to housing and affordability… I don’t think we will be funding as much homeownership through that, but the money we will be using to do rental subsidy and the payments to support rental housing actually frees up other categories that we have to then partner with the land trust, one roof, and other really important sustaining homeownership models… We are seeing a tremendous need as it relates to housing. We have always seen this in the city of Duluth, but we are finding more people are homeless than have been in the past… I really believe that housing is exactly one of those foundational elements. You cannot go about the rest of your day and your life if you don’t feel that you have a safe place to go home to.”
MODERATOR Emma Kasiga: “We know that affordable housing is critical to a thriving local economy because it attracts a strong workforce and promote[s] retention of great employees. Without stable and affordable housing local economies are at a great risk. Stephanie, we know that the Otter Tail Power Company is a strong partner with the Fergus Falls Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Could you share a little bit about why that partnership is so important… and how does affordable homeownership impact Otter Tail Power Companies workforce and its work?”
Stephanie Hoff: “Our company provides an essential service… so we see our essential service as being core to the viability, health and vitality and growth to the communities that we serve. But of course, without people those communities don’t even need power… We need to have workforce opportunities. We need to have education systems. And we need to have affordable housing… To be able to attract the families to the jobs in our area and to be able to attract families with young people who they are looking to put through our school systems we need to ensure, looking out for the best interest of their futures, have the housing resources they need. That is something we can see clearly as we look to develop the region where we provide our service… The Habitat for Humanity leadership here in Fergus Falls… Man, I mean what an amazing crew of humans. You all are! Right down to the local level. That’s where are hearts at Otter Tail Power Company live is being able to connect with those local leaders… I’m here today to speak on behalf of your corporate partners, your community advocates, and allies as an essential service provider. We couldn’t do without you, and we appreciate the opportunity to be a partner in all of the amazing amazing work you are doing.
MODERATOR Emma Kasiga: “Families are striving towards affordable homeownership, and it is out of reach of many. As a housing counseling agency, Abdirahin, could you share a bit about the work that you lead with the African Development Center in the Saint Cloud area and why ADC invests intentionally into affordable homeownership? How do you see homeownership as a cornerstone to economic stability play out in your day-to-day work?”
Abdirahin Hussen: “In ADC I feel same. We are here for economy empowerment and helping immigrant families with asset building… I personally went through the housing buying process. I buy a house and I understand the way communities need it: the homeownership and lower monthly payments. People who are struggling and everything, ADC, we help for the community from the bottom line. We build for the community, we train them, and we show them… that then can succeed… The good story I have, a dad who had a couple kids. He didn’t have credit, and he didn’t have down payment assistance, and he didn’t have a second job… Finally, that dad with five kids, it took two years for him to buy a house in greater Minnesota… Most of the community we help, they’re from thousands of miles from here. They’re from Africa. They don’t understand the process of the United States… We see every single day, clients who are discouraged… and then we provide education, train them, and show them to not give up.”
MODERATOR Emma Kasiga: “Ali, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership has been partnering with the USDA 502 Program to extend affordable homeownership in the rural communities for many years. Based on your experience, what do you see as the greatest opportunity in your service area that could help more families achieve affordable homeownership in greater Minnesota?”
Ali Joens: “Today I want to tell you a little bit about the USDA Rural Development’s 502 Direct Loan Program. Rural Development provides direct loans to purchase or rehabilitate low and very low-income persons homes that live in rural communities which are communities with less than 35,000 people… When we are creating affordable homeownership opportunities, I feel that it has to be a really well-rounded plan. Everyone looks really hard at creating affordable homes. Sometimes we forget about that home buyer. When building affordable housing the go to thing to utilize is cheaper materials, smaller footprint, community land trust, breakdowns, etc. and obviously now we are seeing all the shortages of materials, contractors, and most new constructions. So, we don’t see this decreasing in the near future. How do we make affordable housing work? I really like using creative financing. However, just because a household has a lower income does not mean they should go out and purchase a home that doesn’t meet their needs. In fact, it is more important that we look at the sustainability of homeownership especially with low and very low-income households. That is why I really like the Rural Development loan products. In greater Minnesota you can find all of these fixer uppers that are less than $50,000. But if a family does not have the money or the expertise, are we really creating sustainable homeownership?”
MODERATOR Emma Kasiga: “Marisa, as a Habitat for Humanity Executive Director in Northwestern Minnesota, what is a challenge you face in providing more ownership opportunities in your community? And, in the spirit of World Habitat Day, where we are focused on why this is a community issue we need to be working on together, what are some of the solutions you’d like community and elected leaders to explore?”
Marisa Sauceda: “Our affiliate in Northwestern Minnesota, Polk County is very rural. We’re a very small operation and currently we are only building one house per year. But we do have a strategic plan to grow our organization and obtain the ability to build more than one house per year. The biggest challenge in accomplishing this goal quickly is probably the lack of awareness in the surrounding community about the urgency the extreme negative effects of the lack of safe, stable, and affordable housing on not only adults but especially their children. Our affiliate’s push for community involvement heavily relies on advocacy and public awareness campaigns. We have wonderful community support and enough funding and volunteers from the community to accomplish our goals over time, but since housing is so essential to successful households and communities the adverse effects of lack of housing is something that should be highlighted and at the forefront of policy decisions and community initiatives… Some of the things local and state governments can do? Mayor Larson mentioned funding affordable housing projects, and you know it’s easy to say… we can get funding from grants or businesses or our individual supporters, but pushing it out on a large scale, a city-wide scale, that’s where funding becomes an issue. The thing that I like to say, when I’m talking to the community is make sure that you’re voting. Not only for elected officials, but you’re also voting on ballot measures. Some of those could allocate money to affordable housing initiatives. Some of them can take money away from affordable housing initiatives. So, making sure our voters pay close attention to where the funding is being allocated. And, also elected officials and how they prioritize affordable housing…”
After running through this series of direct panelist questions, Emma Kasiga opened the floor with a few group questions surrounding topics like innovative solutions for affordable housing and myths about affordable homeownership. Then, Cristen Incitti led the panelists through a few questions from the audience surrounding the topics of community land trusts, the impact of the pandemic on family household stability, and how the audience can support homeownership in their communities before wrapping up the event with gratitude.
Interested in listening to the full panel? You can watch the full panel on our YouTube channel. Consider taking a few extra minutes today to share the panel with your friends, family, and legislator, share what you learned on social media, and review your ballot for the upcoming election so you can #VoteforHome. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who helped up put on the event, attended the event, and now you for reading our summary of the event! It’s people like you who help us get over that major hurdle of community awareness.