Great Opportunity for Minnesota Students and Communities

The following column appeared m the SunThisWeek and other APG of East Central Minnesota Newspapers during June 2024


Great opportunity for Minnesota students and communities

This is what we call a “win-win-win.” A new state program offers wonderful opportunities for high school students, their communities and businesses: Young people can learn construction skills as they build housing for low-to-moderate-income people.

More than $40 million is available from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Schools can apply for up to $100,000 to create or expand these programs, with applications due July 11.

Minnesota already has excellent examples of high schools where students are building homes.

For instance, Anoka-Hennepin district students have been building homes for more than 20 years. Here’s a link to a brief video about a three-bedroom house that students built.

House Built by Anoka-Hennepin Students Featured in the Video

Students at, among others, Hutchinson High School, Spring Lake Park, Wright Technical Center in Buffalo, GAP School in St. Paul, and Exploration High School in Minneapolis also have built homes.

One of several “tiny houses” built by Hutchinson High School students

Jeannie (who preferred not to give her last name) helped construct a building in St. Paul with 10 apartments for veterans experiencing homelessness. She told me: “The construction industry needs more women. I wanted to explore this opportunity because I knew there were hundreds, thousands of jobs that needed to be filled.”

Student Constructed Apartments in St Paul for Veterans experiencing homelessness

GAP student Aung Myo Way told a Minnesota House Committee considering this idea that when he found a school where he could learn construction skills, “I felt like I had an opportunity and a future. The staff helped me find a job in floor covering and I joined the union. I still work there. It has been a great eight years. I found a career I love, and I make over $44 an hour. I have worked my way up to being a foreman.”

One of several houses that GAP School students have built

Free case studies our Center wrote illustrate the array of successful partnerships that these schools have created with local companies, unions and nonprofits. These case studies are available here.

Partnerships are what Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Commissioner Jennifer Ho told me the agency is looking for. It wisely wants to ensure that state funds are spent in the most cost-effective manner possible.

And Jeannie, quoted above, was right.

A 2021 study from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce documents, showed in many counties, including those in Minnesota, a serious mismatch exists between certificates and degrees being offered, and jobs that are available. The study is here.

Rep. Matt Norris, DFL-Blaine, and Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, were chief authors of the 2023 bill making this funding available to public schools (district and charter, as well as intermediate units). Rep. Michael Howard, Richfield, chair of the Minnesota House Housing and Policy Committee, and Lindsey Port, Burnsville, chair of the Senate Housing and Homelessness Prevention Committee, also were very supportive.

I sat through five separate hearings and heard strong bipartisan support. As Norris wrote recently, this “is an opportunity for schools to provide affordable housing while helping to train the next generation of builders of affordable housing. I think this will be a real win for Minnesota!”

Funds can be used to, among other things, purchase necessary materials, supplies, and fund relevant subcontracts. Minnesota Housing is offering to meet with individuals and groups interested in submitting proposals. Contact the Impact Fund team at to schedule a meeting and discuss your proposal. Application documents, instruction guide, and other information are here, For further information, contact Nira Ly, Community Lending Team supervisor, at or 651-296-6345.

My friend and Center for School Change co-director Khalique Rogers told me recently: “My motivation for working on this bill stems from my lived experience with homelessness. Growing up in Chicago and moving to St. Paul, my family, including my five siblings, faced significant challenges. We moved to find better opportunities but struggled with housing instability in both cities. By creating opportunities for students to gain practical experience and supporting businesses and housing agencies in developing a skilled workforce, we can drive significant social and economic change in untraditional ways: This law marks a significant milestone for the trades and our broader community.”

Khalique Rogers testifying at the Minnesota Legislature

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at Columns reflect the opinion of the author.