Jim Mulrooney, a Wells Fargo vice president, has pretty much taken a stable home for granted since he was raised in one.
It bothered him to see last year’s homeless encampment of hundreds at Cedar and Hiawatha avenues, and to read increasingly about those who couldn’t afford an apartment, much less a house.
He’s aware that housing costs have skyrocketed while working-class wages have stagnated over the last generation.
Mulrooney, 38, a busy guy with a family, became involved in the issue this year, partly at the invitation of Dave Kvamme, the recently retired CEO of Wells Fargo in Minnesota.
Kvamme is co-chair of an ongoing $55 million capital-raising campaign to help Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity double annual production of affordable mortgages to about 230 new and refurbished homes over the next several years.
“The homeless encampment was a wake-up call for me,” said Mulrooney. “I came from a two-parent household with five brothers and sisters. I had a great sense of peace and stability. I didn’t realize that this foundation wasn’t a reality for a significant percentage of children growing up in our region.”
Mulrooney is all in now. In addition to working alongside prospective owners at several sites, Mulrooney is a leader in Habitat’s campaign to broaden its support among young professionals, in funds and volunteers.
Mulrooney is one of 15 young professionals who make up a “Campaign Council” that’s targeting new supporters. On Nov. 23, the council will host a “build day” at Habitat’s 11-home development on Maryland Avenue in St. Paul’s North End to introduce new volunteers to the Habitat experience. They also plan to kick in $10,000 to sponsor the event.
Habitat is far from the only affordable-housing provider.
For example, a consortium of lenders, investors, donors and others, led by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and an Ojibwe architect who grew up in the neighborhood, are building a 110-unit affordable-housing complex across Cedar Avenue from the site of the infamous homeless encampment: strib.mn/2CKf3Yo
Everybody needs a decent place to live. Hundreds of affordable units are being built or planned in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. But we are still coming up short, compared to the demand. And wages for 35 years have not kept up with the cost of housing, health care and postsecondary education.
And more of us than we know are only a few paychecks away from facing homelessness.
This is also a business issue. In October, CEO Chris Hilger of St. Paul’s Securian Financial, working a Habitat build site in St. Paul, addressed a group of business volunteers.
Hilger mentioned a Securian analyst, Naja Vang, who grew up in a Habitat home her parents helped build. Her parents were refugees, dreaming. They knew their children needed a safe place to study, play and prosper. Vang’s parents got stability in their new home.
“No longer moving year after year to new apartments, switching schools and meeting new neighbors,” Hilger said. “Inspired by her parents’ success as homeowners, Naja was driven to buy a home of her own before starting her family. … That Habitat house 20 years ago unlocked so much potential in Naja.”
Securian and its employees also are significant investors in Habitat.
Mulrooney said he, his family and friends get great satisfaction volunteering for Habitat and meeting a lot of hardworking prospective owners and others. These young professionals see another side of life when they witness the struggle of a family trying to get into a house.
Commensurately, Wells Fargo, the nation’s biggest home lender, is narrowing its philanthropic focus, including a boost in funding for affordable housing by $1 billion through 2025. And Wells Fargo’s Minnesota CEO recently joined the Habitat board.
Habitat home buyers are working-class families. A family of five earning up to $77,700 in household income may qualify to buy a Twin Cities Habitat home. That includes pharmacy technicians, bus drivers, teachers, restaurant workers and interpreters.
Twin Cities Habitat also raises philanthropic dollars to supplement what these families can afford to pay, typically limited to 30% of household income. Nearly half of Habitat’s $26.2 million in revenue came from donations last fiscal year.
About 90% of Habitat homeowners are minorities, who tend to be disproportionately less wealthy than whites. Habitat buyers, in addition to sweat equity contributions, also must learn personal finance and demonstrate thrift to qualify for a mortgage.
“We know we can’t address this affordable housing shortfall all at once,” Mulrooney said. “It takes time and dedication. It’s important for everyone who is passionate and committed to the common mission to provide ongoing financial support if you can.”