Obama’s visit to Laos captures a community’s attention in MN

Obama’s visit to Laos captures a community’s attention in MN

No sitting U.S. president has visited the communist nation of Laos until this week. Minnesotans with roots in that Southeast Asian nation have been watching President Obama’s every move there.

At the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, just west of downtown Minneapolis, Sunny Chanthanouvong couldn’t stop smiling. “We’re talking about Obama all the time,” he said.

As executive director, the 50-year-old Chanthanouvong runs a nonprofit that has served refugees from Laos for more than three decades. Pointing to images of Obama on his Facebook and Instagram feeds, he laughed and asked: “Are you talking about this guy? We’re watching him every day!”

President Obama has been photographed dancing to traditional Lao music, drinking from a fresh coconut and walking barefoot on the grounds of Buddhist temples. And his speeches have been circulating in Lao-American communities across the United States, including in the Twin Cities.

The president teared up during a presentation about unexploded ordnance dropped by U.S. B-52 bombers in the Vietnam War. During that time, an estimated 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos, more than on any other country, per capita, in human history. Leftover cluster bombs, said Chanthanouvong, continue to harm and in some cases kill Lao farmers and their children.

While in Laos, Obama announced he would pledge $90 million over the next three years to help the Lao government clear the land. It was welcome news for Linda Homsombath, who was born in Minneapolis but grew up speaking both Lao and English.

When people ask about her ethnicity, she often has to give people a geography lesson first, explaining that Laos is next to Thailand or below China, bordering Myanmar and Vietnam.

“The Vietnam War, everyone thinks of what happened in Vietnam,” she said. “But nobody thinks about what happened in Laos.”

Homsombath, 30, helps Lao-Americans find jobs and housing in Minnesota. She said her heart is both American and Lao. “I’m proud to be both,” she said.

She hopes Obama’s visit will educate more Americans about relations between the two countries and their shared history. It’s a history that Mysee Chang of Mounds View is still learning. She is 25 years old and ethnically Hmong.

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“For President Obama to go to Laos and to talk about what the history was … it just means a lot to me as a Hmong-American,” she said. “It really validates my family’s history.”

Her father was among the tens of thousands of foot soldiers in the CIA’s lesser-known operations in Laos. Chang wanted to see her parents’ birthplace herself, so she spent a year in Laos as a Fulbright fellow, teaching English.

“That taught me a really powerful lesson, about just how different generations have different stories,” she said. “And now I have my own stories to tell about Laos.”

New Homeownership Program

New Homeownership Program

City of Minneapolis Launches New Homeownership Program Aimed at Increasing Number of Homeowners in Minneapolis and Reducing Racial Disparity Gap in Homeownership

On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, the City of Minneapolis launched Homeownership Opportunity Minneapolis (HOM), a new housing program aimed at increasing the number of homeowners in Minneapolis and reducing the racial disparity gap in homeownership. In the City’s 2015 adopted budget, the Minneapolis City Council approved Mayor Betsy Hodges’ recommendation of $940K ($840K for affordability assistance and $100K for outreach efforts) for HOM. It is anticipated that about 125 families will be served by the program this year.

The racial disparity gap in homeownership is defined as the difference between the percentage of white households that own their homes and the percentage of non-white households that own their homes. Minnesota has one of the worst racial disparity gaps in homeownership in the country at approximately 38 percent. In Minneapolis, it is also alarmingly high—at approximately 36 percent (2011-2013 American Community Survey).

“Having a stable place to live and raise a family is a goal that every Minneapolis resident should have the opportunity to achieve,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges. “The City’s new Homeownership Opportunity Minneapolis program will help make that possible, especially for diverse households.”

The HOM program will provide up to $7,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance to eligible Minneapolis homebuyers in the form of a zero percent interest loan, without a monthly payment. The loan will be completely forgiven after the homeowner lives in the home for five years (all of the funds are repayable if a homeowner moves out before five years). HOM funds may be used towards any single family home, duplex, townhouse, or condo anywhere in Minneapolis. Eligibility is based on income.

“Entry cost is one of the most significant barriers to homeownership, especially in an environment of increasing rents,” said City of Minneapolis Director of Housing, Andrea Brennan. “The goal of the Homeownership Opportunity Minneapolis program is to reduce this barrier and make homeownership, and an investment into economic sustainability, within reach for many of those who currently believe it’s not possible.”

The HOM program is being promoted in partnership with Minnesota Housing and Minnesota Homeownership Center through the “Own Your Future, Own Your Home” campaign. The campaign focuses on homeownership as an investment for the future. The partnership also focuses on providing information about quality, affordable mortgages available through Minnesota Housing. In addition, free, non-biased support is available from a variety of non-profit housing experts.

The City, in partnership with the Minnesota Homeownership Center, has contracted with several community-based organizations to provide culturally specific outreach and communication support to get the word out about the HOM program. Organizations working on the “Own Your Future, Own Your Home” campaign include: African Development Center, African Economic Development Solutions, Bii Gii Wiin, EMERGE, Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation, Lao Assistance Center, Neighborhood Development Alliance, and PRG, Inc.

“The Lao Assistance Center is excited to work with the City of Minneapolis on the HOM program as our organization is dedicated to increasing self-reliance of individuals and promoting cultural equity,” said Sunny Chanthanouvong, Executive Director of the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. “Increasing the number of homeowners through HOM is one way we can help the Lao community achieve their goals.”

To learn more about HOM, visit www.ownyourfutureownyourhome.org or contact the Lao Assistance Center at 504 Irving Ave North, Minneapolis, MN (Phone: 612-374-4967).

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