Renters No More: More Undocumented Immigrants Are Able To Buy Homes

Olivia Blanco Mullins, Houston Chronicle, August 4, 2006

Despite being in the U.S. illegally, undocumented immigrants can legally buy a house.

Certain lenders don’t ask for immigration papers. And buyers using a special tax ID often don’t need a lengthy credit history.

That has allowed many undocumented workers to realize the American Dream, experts said, while contributing to an upturn in the real estate market.

For Jorge and Maribel, a couple from Mexico who have lived illegally in Houston since 1996, an Individual Tax Identification Number, known as an ITIN, and a Texas driver’s license were enough to secure their mortgage, allowing them to purchase a home in 2002.

“I was really surprised when I found out that it could be done,” said Jorge, who bought his home through Gloria Castrejón’s realty firm, La Palma.

Like Maribel, Jorge asked to be identified by only his first name.

The fact is, it can be easier for many undocumented immigrants to buy houses than to get jobs.

To complete the purchase, they don’t need a Social Security number.

An ITIN, their last two yearly tax returns, an official ID such as a consular registration card and a few credit references, such as electricity and telephone bills, are enough to apply for a mortgage and buy a home, according to experts.

“Residency has never been a condition to purchase a home,” said Frances Martinez Myers, president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, which is based in Washington, D.C.

“Being in the country legally or not is not an issue when you are buying a house.”

If a buyer does provide a Social Security number, real estate agencies and lenders may request proof of legal status, according to Myers. But that is usually not the case with an ITIN.

“It is not illegal for an undocumented immigrant to buy a house. What is illegal is to do so using a false Social Security number,” Houston immigration lawyer José Vega warned.

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 48 percent of the more than 40 million Hispanics in this country were homeowners in 2002, the last year for which such figures are available.

Although some anti-immigration groups claim that those in the country illegally pose an economic burden, a study by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals said that home purchases by undocumented workers could result in $60 billion in mortgages over the next few years.

The total value of mortgages granted for home purchases in 2005 was $1.5 trillion, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.

Estimates on the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. vary.

The U.S. Census Bureau puts the figure at 11 million.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, puts it at 12 million.

The Hispanic real estate group’s study estimates more than 150,000 illegal immigrants who rent housing could afford a $98,000 home.

González is convinced that Hispanics, including illegal immigrants, are revitalizing the U.S. housing market.

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