Rural home construction program advancing for Winona County


The Winona area faces a serious affordable housing shortage, and building sufficient numbers of homes to meet demand has been challenging without enough skilled workers to replace those who retire. Winona County Profile data shows that the county needs hundreds more affordable owner-occupied housing units. The construction industry needs an influx of new professionals. Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties and Minnesota State College (MSC) Southeast are teaming up to forge a solution.

The nonprofit and the college will collaborate on the construction of one new rural home per year for a qualified Habitat for Humanity homebuyer, and the work will serve as the lab for MSC Southeast construction technology students. Using post-construction financing through the USDA 502 program, funds used to build the home will immediately be recycled into the program.

Habitat for Humanity and MSC Southeast have begun approaching the community for an initial investment of $250,000 and are excited to announce that Jerry and Pat Papenfuss have come forward with a lead gift of $100,000 to kick it off. Their incredible generosity will strengthen and benefit rural Winona County families for generations to come.

This initiative will build home after home, year after year, and train cohort after cohort of construction students, strengthening the local construction industry while increasing affordable housing options.

Habitat partners with individuals and families from application, through construction, to when the mortgage is signed. Working together from start to finish helps people prepare for the responsibilities of homeownership, including learning about finances, mortgages, and home maintenance. It helps ensure the long-term success of Habitat homebuyers, who must be active participants in building their homes.

Previously focused solely on carpentry, the construction technology program at MSC Southeast was relaunched in fall 2018 with an expanded emphasis on planning, designing, estimating, and blueprint reading, as well as robotic building layout, solar, and green building. The new program was designed around a partnership with Habitat so that students would learn the skills of the trade and the value of service to the community.

“The thing I like most about the construction technology program is the hands-on aspect of it. Last year we built an addition on the Habitat ReStore here in Winona. It was really great to be able to work hands-on with our instructor and mentors from ReStore instead of having to learn behind a computer. Another good aspect is working with the community by building a house for Habitat rather than working for ourselves,” said Joshua Husman, construction technology student.

To date, more than 50 students have enrolled in this program, either for the one-year diploma or the two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in construction technology. Every one of the program’s graduates has found employment, and almost all of them stay within 50 miles of Winona. MSC Southeast graduates are working at Wieser Brothers Construction, Allen Construction, Bosteter Windows and Siding, KBS, Larson Construction, River Valley Construction, Schwab Construction, and more, helping meet the region’s workforce needs.

This new rural home construction program will increase Winona residents’ access to affordable homeownership opportunities and bolster the skilled trades workforce to help meet community housing demand.

Founded in 1994, Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties is a nonprofit organization that works toward a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Open to the public, the ReStore supports affiliate operations by selling new and gently used building materials and furniture. Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing locally and worldwide through constructing, rehabilitating, and preserving homes. It was founded on the conviction that every man, woman, and child should have a simple, decent place to live in dignity and safety. The office is located at 126 North Baker Street, and the ReStore is located at 900 West Third Street in Winona. For more information, call 507-457-0003 or visit us online at

Located in the historic river towns of Red Wing and Winona, Minnesota State College Southeast is a two-year technical and community college that prepares students for a lifetime of learning by providing education for employment, skill enhancement, retraining, and transfer. The two campuses have distinctive characteristics but are one college in structure, policies, procedures, and mission. Both offer small class sizes, state-of-the-art facilities, and an environment that is friendly and supportive. MSC Southeast is a member of Minnesota State. For more information, visit


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