Execs break a sweat on the East Side

Jay Lund, CEO of Andersen Windows, center, feeds a piece of siding through a table saw on Monday, Oct. 14 at a Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity home on the 600 block of Whitall Street in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. (photos by Patrick Larkin/Review)

Micheal Lane, CEO of Lofton Label, a label printing company out of Inver Grove Heights, Minn. helps put up siding.

CEO’s put up siding on the Habitat home’s detached garage.

Patrick Larkin
news editor

It’s not everyday that you can walk down lower Payne Avenue, turn off half a block, and run into thirty CEO’s wearing blue jeans and holding circular saws.

But that was the scene on Monday on the 600 block of Whitall Street where the leaders of companies like Cargill, Andersen Windows, Allianz Life Insurance Company, and Bremer Bank spent the day fitting siding onto a Habitat for Humanity town home.

The CEO’s worked side-by-side with Habitat’s homebuyers and volunteers on a two-unit townhouse that will be the home to eight children and their parents come January. The event was the Twin Cities Habitat For Humanity’s twelfth annual “CEO Build Day.”

Homebuyers that qualify for Twin Cities Habitat homes have to put in between 300 and 500 “sweat equity” hours where they do construction labor for Habitat houses, which often involves helping build their own homes. They are then eligible to buy a home, and pay only principal on their mortgage, no interest. 

Zewdie Ambo was working on the house alongside the CEO’s as means of earning his own new place a few blocks away -- he and his family expect to be moving into a nearby Habitat house on the 500 block of Cook Avenue in short order.

Ambo said he moved to the East Side to raise kids with his wife. He works as a cab driver and his two kids attend the nearby Peace Academy.

As it stands, his family is crowded into a one-bedroom apartment, which they pay about $650 a month for. He said they would be paying about the same the new three-bedroom house.

“My kids are very excited about it,” he said.

Jay Lund, CEO of Andersen Windows said the event was a good change from his typical day of being a boss.

“I’m used to giving orders,” said Lund, the co-chair of the event. “Today’s the day where you do what you’re told.”

Lund said that despite the chilly weather, topping out at about fifty degrees Fahrenheit, the build was “a lot of fun.”

He said putting siding up was “a very rewarding experience.”

“I feel like we’re making a difference,” he said -- namely that the home is addressing a need for affordable housing.

Doug Rudquist, construction manager at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, said the CEO’s were “a good group.”

“They’re as good as our everyday volunteers,” he said, and some even have contractor backgrounds.

“It’s refreshing that they come and do so much work,” he said. And indeed, by 1 p.m. the group had already gotten most of the house sided.

Rudquist said one of the most satisfying parts of his job was doing the final walk-throughs for the homebuyers, who are typically families.

He gets to see them checking out their new home, and the kids want to show him which bedroom they get, and what they’re going to do with it.

“It’s really satisfying,” he said.

As the CEO’s and volunteers ate lunch, Mayor Chris Coleman talked about the neighborhood surrounding the new town house.

“This summer has been an interesting summer on the East Side,” he said, referring to headlines of gang-related violence, but “there is so much (good) happening on the East Side.”

He said the house symbolizes “a new sense of re-investment in this community that is leading to other investment.

“When people see activity... when people see families coming into the neighborhood, they’re going to take care of their properties... All of those things start to rebuild communities.”

In that vein, the City of St. Paul released a request for proposals Tuesday, Oct. 15, seeking developers to buy and fix up old properties and build new homes in cluster areas. Many of the homes and lots are in the Payne-Phalen, Railroad Island, and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods.

John Vaughn from the East Side Neighborhood Development Company said the new home shows progress in the area.

He did add, however, that the block still needs more work.

To the west of the new house is a large set of vacant lots that could fit half a dozen homes, and to the east is a set of recession-era townhouses that were part of a larger private development effort that was abandoned.

Vaughn lauded Habitat for Humanity’s efforts.

“During the dark wintry depths of the reception... they were almost the only ones building (on the East Side),” he said.

He said he’s hoping to see the company continue to build in the area, and noted that the new homeowners add to the neighborhood.

“They’re committed to the house, and the kids stay in school here,” he said. “That’s what we want.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.


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