Realtor Stops Immigrant Loans

Daniel Connolly, Commercial Appeal (Memphis), April 5, 2008

Su Casa Realty, one of the biggest real estate agencies catering to Hispanic immigrants in Memphis, has largely stopped selling homes to people without Social Security numbers, often a sign that they are here illegally.

Juan Romo, part owner of the Century 21 franchise, said mortgage programs for people who lack Social Security numbers aren’t likely to come back as banks clamp down on credit in response to the sub-prime housing crisis.

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Also, it’s increasingly hard for illegal immigrants to keep steady jobs, he said.

“I think (getting these loans) is going to be more difficult every time,” he said.

It’s against the law to enter the country without inspection or overstay a visa, but businesses have been successful in lobbying for lax enforcement.

Many people here illegally use fake documents to get jobs, and some earn enough to buy homes.

But the economic slowdown, particularly in construction labor, may mean fewer illegal immigrants can afford them. And there’s anecdotal evidence that many employers are checking documents more carefully and turning illegal immigrants away.

Federal law still allows banks to offer mortgages to illegal immigrants. Banks have typically required these immigrants to present an individual tax identification number, or ITIN.

The federal government issues these numbers so that workers can file income tax forms regardless of their immigration status.

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Su Casa had been using an ITIN program from the Bank of Bartlett, but Romo said the bank ended the program this year after the mortgage insurer it was using made a national decision to stop insuring the loans.

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Romo said he’s done with ITIN mortgages for now. “It’s better to invest your time with people with bad credit now than with the ITIN number.”

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