Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity plans a $90 million loan fund that would get 500 working-class families into refurbished and new houses in which they have sweat equity over the next four years.

Last year, Twin Cities Habitat helped 44 families achieve homeownership.

Twin Cities Habitat is working with financial partners on the mortgage pool that would result in below-market rate mortgages for a larger group of families with incomes of $28,000 to $68,000. The financial partners, which include financial institutions, corporations, foundations and affluent families, would get an unspecified lower-than-market long-term return on capital and the borrowers would get a below-market mortgage.

Typically, Habitat, which is supported by donations, volunteers and $2.5 million annually from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, doesn’t charge interest and often subsidizes purchase prices to assist families who have proved they will be good owners through financial counseling and work on their houses. They typically are not required to pay more than 30 percent of monthly income in payment. Most don’t qualify for conventional loans.

Robyn Bipes, an executive with the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, joins Habitat this month as vice president of mortgage lending.

Cathy Lawrence, a Habitat vice president, said last week that the upper income range for Habitat buyers will be extended to $68,000 for a family, from $52,000, as a result of the new program.

The working class and middle class have been squeezed by stagnant wages after inflation since 1980. This would help keep working folks housed. And Habitat, working with clients and volunteers as well as skilled trades workers, is expert at economical building and remodeling.


Terra General Contractors building reputation

Tom Brown, majority owner of 12-year-old Terra General Contractors, just posted a record year and received significant industry recognition.

Rogers-based Terra, which specializes in education, government and, most recently, health care building, has received several project awards and recognition from the Minnesota Construction Association.

And last year Terra was named contractor of the year by the Minnesota Subcontractors Association.

“We’ve won some other awards, but that one means the most to us,” Brown said. “Being recognized by our subcontractors. They appreciate that when they arrive on a job, it’s ready to go for them. They’re not wasting time.”

Brown, 51, a veteran construction manager at other firms before he joined Terra, said the 17-employee company should complete a record $30 million-plus in work this year.

The company was recognized for the $17.4 million renovation of Shoemaker Hall, a century-old residence at St. Cloud State University, that preserved historic features, as well as a state construction association “green innovation” award for the new Maple Grove fire station.

The firm also has completed work for Carleton College and Hennepin County Medical Center, as well as a manufacturing plant for Cretex Concrete in Hawley, Minn., in recent years.

Brown said the company survived the Great Recession thanks to some preparation and luck. Terra got through some of it overseeing construction of a Best Buy store in Rogers that was closed subsequently and converted to space for two other retailers.

“Getting through the recession was half good judgment and preparation and then some luck,” said Brown, an Elk River native. “I didn’t have to borrow. We had a bit of traction with [the Best Buy project], a good relationship with the bank and Pate Bonding stood behind me.”

Its smallest job was a recent $10,000 weekend special for UnitedHealth Group.

“We did it because we want to earn more work from that client,” Brown said. “Our sweet spot is jobs of $4 million or $5 million. And we’ve done $10 million and $20 million work for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.”


Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at