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Homeownership Holds Firm among Hispanic Immigrants Nationwide

May 21, 2009

Across the United States, homeownership rates continue to fall, but this trend is not seen among one growing demographic group: Hispanic immigrants. A new study released by the Pew Hispanic Center finds that immigrant households overall are not feeling the effects of foreclosure as much as native-born households. In 2008, immigrant homeownership fell 0.4 percent from a peak of 53.3 percent in 2006. This compares to a 1.5 percent drop in the homeownership rate among native-born households.

Hispanic immigrants stand out for their ability to weather the housing crisis and stay in their homes. Their homeownership rate increased from 36.9 percent in 1995 to 44.7 percent in 2007—a number that remained untouched in 2008. The 7.2 million Hispanic immigrant homeowners account for 44.8 percent of all foreign-born households. According to the Pew study, some of the factors that explain the rise in homeownership by Hispanic immigrant families include higher rates of citizenship, more years in the United States and a population that is now more educated (52.8 percent high school graduation rate) than 13 years ago. But another reason for the higher homeownership rates is the support of certain community groups and financial institutions.

But what’s happening at a local level? New Orleans, Atlanta, and Nashville share a common bond as nontraditional immigrant destinations and each offers a different glimpse at how the housing crisis affects the local Hispanic immigrant population. New Orleans’ overall Hispanic population has at least doubled since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Meanwhile Georgia, in comparison to all 50 states, saw the fourth-highest percentage increase in its foreign-born population between 2000 and 2006. Nashville experienced a 454 percent increase in its Hispanic population in the 1990s. The state of the housing market varies in each city, but the Hispanic immigrant population—and native-born Hispanics—can count on select local financial institutions and community groups to provide assistance in everything from financial education to securing and paying a mortgage.

Louisiana is slightly removed from the recession affecting the rest of the country, and ASI Federal Credit Union—an institution with 15 branches in the New Orleans vicinity, including its newly opened branch in a Hispanic-dominated area—is working hard to keep it that way. It offers consumer credit, homeownership counseling, and foreclosure prevention programs both to its clients and to the larger community. Over 170 individuals and families have participated in the eight-hour classes offered under each topic, and a partnership with Puentes New Orleans allows ASI to extend its work to the Hispanic community. According to Bertha Montenegro, the senior vice president of lending, ASI has seen “no obvious significant delinquencies among Hispanics in home mortgages.”

But times are much tougher in the metro Atlanta area. Foreclosures have skyrocketed as jobs, especially in the construction industry, continue to dry up. United Americas Bank, Georgia’s leading Hispanic bank, has worked tirelessly to help its customers, lowering mortgage rates and working to extend the amortization schedule of loans from 30 to 40 years. But according to President and CEO Jorge Forment: “It doesn’t matter if the payment is lowered, the reality is that there’s no work and people can’t stay in their homes.”

Nashville follows New Orleans’ model in establishing strong partnerships between financial institutions and community groups to keep a lid on the foreclosure rate among members of the Hispanic population. Conexión Americas, one of Nashville’s leading community groups, has helped 326 Hispanic immigrant families become homeowners since 2004, with over 98 percent staying in their homes and avoiding foreclosure. Its “Puertas Abiertas” (Open Doors) program provides families with the step-by-step tools to purchase and then maintain their homes. Conexión’s Programs Director Tara Lentz is quick to point out that “we continue to find that Latino immigrant families are eager to achieve the dream of homeownership.” Conexión Americas partners with Southeast Financial Federal Credit Union to provide loans to first-time homebuyers.

The reality of the housing crisis is that homeownership nationwide continues to fall from its 2004 peak of 69.0 percent, with the Pew Hispanic Center’s latest data noting a rate of 67.8 percent last year. While the experiences of new immigrant cities differ, one thing is for certain: as Hispanic immigrants increasingly integrate into U.S. society, their economic contributions, like purchasing homes, similarly increase. Working together, community groups and the private sector can help to equip Hispanic immigrants with the tools to make this dream into a reality.