The Dream Endangered

Alejandro Lazo, Washington Post, May 23, 2009


Hispanic immigrants such as Arias benefited broadly from the construction boom and rising home values, which created jobs and nurtured flourishing local economies. Newcomers flocked to places such as Prince William County in search of well-paying, easy-to-find construction jobs. Established immigrants found work as real estate agents and loan officers, founded construction companies, and opened restaurants and retail shops catering to the influx. Now many are facing the consequences of the bust.

Earlier this month, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report that found that higher percentages of immigrants in U.S. counties correlated with elevated foreclosure rates. The report also singled out local economic conditions, the cost of housing, and a greater incidence of subprime lending to blacks and Hispanics as key factors. Prince William was among those counties with a high foreclosure rate and a sizable immigrant population that the center studied. And stories such as Arias’s illustrate how closely immigrant fortunes were tied to the real estate market.


By 2006, the immigrant population of Loudoun and Prince William counties had grown to more than 14 times its 1980 level, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. In Prince William, immigrants made up 22 percent of the county’s population in 2006, up from just 4 percent in 1980. Meanwhile, the geographic origins of Prince William’s immigrants also changed, with people from Latin America making up 54 percent of the immigrant population in 2006, up from 28 percent in 1980. That put the county in the top 12 in the nation for Hispanic growth, according to the study.


Although experts say immigrants were drawn to the epicenters of the housing boom by the high growth and easy employment, they are not sure what role the newcomers played in the subsequent wave of foreclosures. The same Pew report that found a correlation between immigrants and elevated levels of foreclosure found that the rate of homeownership among immigrants nationally is holding up better than it is for native-born Americans. Hispanic immigrants have not experienced a reversal in homeownership, according to the study. The main factor, the report said, is the process of assimilation–in which immigrants tend to earn more and secure homeownership at a greater rate the longer they stay.

The typical immigrant in 2008 is more highly assimilated than his or her counterpart in 1995, according to the study, having spent more years in the United States and being more likely to be a U.S. citizen. That has helped to steady the homeownership rate.



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