Ken Kunzman helped others afford homes

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2009 - 9:07 PM

The founder of Counselor Realty, he was instrumental in creating the Housing Trust Fund for Minnesota.

Ken Kunzman

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Ken Kunzman made his living selling homes, but the real-estate magnate who founded Counselor Realty was equally concerned about those who could not afford to buy a house.

In 1988, Kunzman suggested that interest paid on Realtors' escrow accounts be put into a trust fund and used to help low-income families find a place to call home.

His tireless lobbying of the state Legislature, the Minnesota Association of Realtors and Minnesota Banker's Association led to the creation of the Minnesota Housing Trust Fund, which has invested millions of dollars into affordable housing programs over the past 20 years.

Kunzman died of brain cancer Sept. 26 at his home in Ham Lake. He was 71.

Last week, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless honored Kunzman with its 2009 Bruce Vento Award, an honor named after the former congressman that is given annually to a person who advocates to end homelessness, said Liz Kuoppala, the organization's interim executive director.

"He stuck his neck out on the line, because nobody really knew who should get that money," she said. "Because of Ken's help, we have this trust to invest in affordable housing."

Kunzman began looking out for others as a youth when he worked as a camp counselor and led fundraisers for the YMCA. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1960, he sold pharmaceutical and medical devices for Medtronic when it was a fledgling company in a northeast Minneapolis garage. Since he was paid only in stock, he left and founded Counselor Realty in 1964. That business now has seven metro-area offices, 425 agents and many satisfied customers, said his sister Kristin Kunzman.

"He was good at finding homes for people they could afford and that they liked," she said. "He sold to third generations and always looked out for the customers. Many times he'd forgo the commission. He did what he could so they could get in [their house]."

Kunzman was active in politics and often held fundraisers on his 20-acre Ham Lake property for Democratic candidates such as former Gov. Rudy Perpich and former Attorney General Warren Spannaus, Kristin said.

As a 25-year board member of Family Life Center, he helped find a building for the nonprofit mental health center, which serves Anoka County residents. He was named a WCCO Radio Good Neighbor in the 1980s for Counselor Realty's support of Blaine's Blazin' Fourth celebration, and for putting on a fishing tournament for young adults with mental disabilities, his sister said.

Kunzman enjoyed boating, fishing and camping with his family, as well as hiking trips to places such as Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. He also took pleasure in landscaping, flower gardening and raising vegetables, Kristin Kunzman said.

In addition to his sister Kristin, Kunzman is survived by his wife of 49 years, Jenice, of Ham Lake; three sons, Steven and Scott, both of Andover, and Daniel, of Coon Rapids; three other sisters, Karen DeLange, of Cedar, Karla Faucher, of Remer, Minn., and Kathleen Kunzman, of Brooklyn Park, and five grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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