This post is sponsored by Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson for West St. Paul.
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson is running for mayor in West St. Paul. An activist and labor organizer, Johnson has more than 20 years of experience in advocating and working for people. She’s learned firsthand the value of community and the importance of housing in people’s lives.
Surviving Foster Care
Johnson grew up in the foster care system in Illinois, bouncing around between different homes. Between the ages of two and 15, Johnson lived in 75 different places.
But she spent her most formative years with one family—one of the few times she stayed in one place. She remembers an incident in school when she was being bullied as the lone Black child and fighting back landed her in the principal’s office. The principal told Johnson, “We don’t want your kind here.”
“My white dad went to school and went off on the principal,” Johnson said. “That was a defining moment for me—that someone would speak up for me.”
Homeownership and Loss
Fast forward to 2006: Johnson and her husband have just bought their first home. After years of effort and saving, their family finally has a place to call their own.
They moved in on December 22, and on Christmas Eve Johnson was out buying Christmas ornaments when her husband suddenly died from a heart attack. They didn’t know anyone on the street and her children didn’t know what to do.
In the days that followed, no one showed up. Without her husband’s income, Johnson couldn’t afford the home and the family lost it to foreclosure.
“That’s why I’m passionate about the community,” Johnson said. “People need to be welcomed into a neighborhood immediately and feel like they’re a part of the community. We need one another.”
While Johnson’s passion is clearly about more than policy, she does have specific policy proposals to address housing in West St. Paul:
- Adopt-a-Homeowner: A way to connect seniors selling their homes with eager home buyers who want to move into a community. It forges a relationship between buyers and sellers that strengthens neighborhoods.
- Rent-to-Home: A rental assistance program to help renters transition into home ownership. State grants exist so this wouldn’t have to be a burden on the city budget.
- Renter/Homeowner Committee: There’s often a divide between renters and homeowners, so let’s bring them together and address challenges both groups face, from rental rights issues to home improvement loans.
“Half of West St. Paul lives in rental housing, and with all the new apartments coming in, it’s vital that we address the concerns of renters,” Johnson said. “But it’s not renters vs. homeowners, it’s about creating community. It’s ensuring we’re a city where everyone feels welcomed.”
Johnson knows what it means to have a place to call home, and as she raises her granddaughter in West St. Paul, that’s part of why she’s running for mayor—to make sure everyone can find ‘home’ in West St. Paul.