The Lao Assistance Center was formed by ethnic Lao refugees in 1983 who had escaped the war in Laos. The founders wanted to respond to the emerging needs of their newly arrived community members to help rebuild their lives. Today, Minnesota has the third largest Lao population in the country, but in Minnesota over 47 percent of the homes are upside down in their mortgages and facing foreclosure.
Linda Homsombath is working with the Lao Assistance Center to address the housing crisis, especially in North Minneapolis. “While we do not have exact figures for the 12,000+ Lao in Minnesota who face foreclosure,” Homsombath said, “We have been approached by hundreds over the last three years who need help. But they often come to us too late to do anything.”
Homsombath hopes a new series of workshops will provide homeowners and community members the knowledge and information to help their friends and family address the challenges in a timely manner and to connect with others outside of the Lao community who are facing similar crisis.
One of the first Lao American realtors in Minnesota was Pany Siharath, who also worked and volunteered with us at the Lao Assistance Center.
“Housing is one of the biggest parts of the American Dream,” he said. “It was a good feeling for me to work as a realtor to help families build their dream and gain a sense of belonging in this new country.”
To Siharath, owning a home means setting down roots. As refugees, Lao saw owning a home as a validation and a means of obtaining a space that allows you to practice your culture and raise a family.
In 2010, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, became an intermediary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and supports a national network of nonprofits in 10 states, providing services in more than ten AAPI languages and communities, including the Lao Assistance Center in Minnesota.
The Lao Assistance Center is particularly working to increase awareness of issues of Loan Scams and predatory lending and a more concrete awareness of the foreclosure process to assist Lao in a culturally relevant manner. This means small group workshops, with bilingual materials allowing time for questions and answers and to establish ideas for long-term solutions.
Overall, participants have been very interested in the subject. Many wanted to pass the information presented in their previous workshops on to nieces, nephews who owned homes. They asked for a workshop on homeownership in May.
Homsombath is excited by the response and looks forward to working the community.
“A lot of the American Dream rests on fair housing and an ability to have a stable place to stay,” she said. “Getting educated on your rights and options is an important part of that process.”
Most participants in the program come from across Minneapolis and Hennepin County, learning about it through flyers, phone calls and the Lao Assistance Center mailing list developed over the last 28 years.
You can visit the Lao Assistance Center at 503 Irving Ave. N in Minneapolis or www.laocenter.org 612-374-4967.