They are building homes in Forest Lake, buying property in Minneapolis and restoring duplexes on St. Paul's East Side. And they have become the area's fastest-growing group of homeowners.
They are Hmong Minnesotans. And as the greatest wave of immigrants Minnesota has seen since World War I, their rapid rise to homeownership is an economic and social boon for the region.
According to 2000 census figures released this week, homeownership among Hmong households grew from 14 percent in 1990 to more than half 10 years later. Minnesota's overall rate is close to 75 percent, among the highest in the nation.
Circumstances that set the Hmong apart from other populations contributed to their homeowner rates. In some cases, larger family sizes forced poorer Hmong into become homeowners faster than usual. With average households of six people, it's tough to find places to rent. There also is no cultural tradition of renting in their home country of Laos.
In addition, the Hmong are generally younger than other populations. The data indicate that young adults who have grown up and gone to school here, and now hold good jobs, are driving the home-buying boom.
The remarkable and speedy transition of many Hmong families from non-English-speaking refugees to taxpaying homeowners is a tremendous boon for the Twin Cities. Home and business ownership help build wealth, which in turn allows people to contribute more to the economy. All the research shows that purchasing a home tends to stabilize families and make them more committed to improving not only their own property but the community around them. That's especially important for inner cities, because about 80 percent of the state's 45,000 Hmong live in St. Paul or Minneapolis.
The Hmong challenges and successes in the housing market help reinforce the case for building and rehabilitating affordable starter housing. This ready, dependable market should encourage more developer investment, both in the core city and the suburbs.
The Hmong presence in the housing market merits recognition because they are the state's largest group of new arrivals and because the transition happened so quickly. Yet it is also worth noting that Asian Minnesotans generally are big on homeownership. Smaller populations, including other Laotians, Vietnamese and Chinese, now own homes at rates ranging from 57 up to nearly 65 percent. Their stories should inspire and encourage other immigrant groups who are settling in the Twin Cities.
In many ways, the most recent Southeast Asian citizens embody the classic immigrant story: flee oppression at home for a new start in a new land. Clearly, many of the Hmong have embraced this nation as their own _ to Minnesota's great benefit.