Construction Management alumnus Jules Atangana's journey in affordable housing advocacy

Jules Atangana found his way into the affordable housing field through an internship in grad school at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where he studied urban and regional planning, concentrating on affordable housing and community development. The internship was with the City of Saint Paul, working on financing single-family housing. This was in the years following the mortgage crisis, when the city was buying many single-family units that were being foreclosed on to be developed and sold as affordable housing for qualified families. 

“Too many families were losing their homes, with a growing number becoming homeless,” Jules recounted. “The crisis was not only a subject of national policy and economic debate but a global concern, with an estimated billion people either homeless or improperly housed throughout the world.” With this in mind, he said he “felt the need to work on affordable housing to help build generational wealth for low-income families.”

Born and raised in Cameroon, Jules’s first degree was in civil engineering, and in his work he did a lot of structural calculations for residential construction projects, while teaching technical drawing and construction technology in various high schools in Cameroon. He met and married a former Peace Corps volunteer, and they moved together to her home state of Minnesota in 2005. While exploring career opportunities, Jules entered the U’s Construction Management (CMGT) program because it had a lot of similarities to what he had been doing in Cameroon. He graduated in 2010.

Following a passion for helping families in need 

Having completed the internship in affordable housing, Jules went to work for a nonprofit real estate developer called ArtSpace Inc., developing affordable work and living spaces around the country for creatives and entrepreneurs. After about a year, weary of the constant travel to visit projects in different cities, he returned to work for the City of Saint Paul, with stints in housing finance for the State of Minnesota and Ramsey County. He currently leads the Multifamily Financing Division in the Planning and Economic Development Department for the City. In this position, he is in charge of providing financing to affordable housing developers. The financing “can get complicated,” he says, because it often comes from multiple sources—the state or federal government, tax credits, and bonds—that have different requirements. It’s his job to make sure that financing comes from the right sources that fit the project and gets approvals from all the necessary stakeholders, either public entities and other private lenders that are part of a project.

Jules Atangana stands in front of a red metal railing with the Mississippi River its banks of orange and yellow foliage in the background


Construction management lays the foundation

Jules says his education in the Construction Management program has set him up for success in his work in affordable housing. Among other things, it set the foundation for his leadership role. It helped, as he says, to "learn about the building trade here in the United States and how everything works. Now I sometimes have to go out to the field to make sure that the work we are paying for is done properly. I might interact with developers and contractors that have also gone through the program. And so, although we’re technically not doing the same jobs, we’re able to understand each other and speak the same language because we have the same vocabulary."

One course in particular made Jules understand that construction isn’t only about brick and mortar: Legal, Ethical, and Risk Issues for Managers. “The class really opened my mind to see that there is more than learning how to draw a building or read a blueprint. There are many people who are involved in construction. Even if you are the builder, you still have a contract. You need someone to understand the contract, and you still need to understand the implication of the contract and any restrictions attached to it, because there are legal ramifications.”

Contributing to policy and societal change

Jules Atangana leans against an outdoor sculpture that resembles a pale green outstretched hand

Jules says it was those types of courses that made him want to go to graduate school and learn how much more he could contribute to the betterment of society. “I just don’t want to be a doer. I want to be someone who proposes policies to change things.” 

Along with analyzing financing proposals and requests, Jules has also worked on policy proposals at the City of Saint Paul, drafting programs such as the Rental Rehabilitation Loan Program that offers loans to owners of small rental properties at zero percent interest to upgrade the physical condition of the units that house low-income families. He has also worked on the Qualified Allocation Plan that offers tax credits to investors in affordable housing. 

“My work won’t be done as long as there are people and families who are unable to afford a decent home," says Jules. "I hope to find creative ways for governments at various levels to continue funding affordable housing.” 

Jules Atangana was a recipient of the Nolte Miller Scholarship and the Osher Rentry Scholarship

Monique Dubos is a writer and content strategist with the U of M College of Continuing and Professionals Studies, where she has covered the College’s noncredit professional development, construction management, health services management, and IT infrastructure programs since 2018. She has also written for the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, and various publications. Connect with her via LinkedIn.