Poll: Housing Crisis A Major Worry Among Latinos

A new poll, just out, reveals the impact of the housing crisis on the nation's fastest growing population group: Hispanics. The survey was carried out by politically-focused group, Latino Decisions, and Hispanic news content provider, Impre-media. It shows that more than 1 in 3 Latino homeowners and renters worry about losing their home in the next year. To discuss the findings, guest host Allison Keyes speaks with Matt Barreto, a pollster and director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

We'll hear your comments on what we've been doing on the program and online in the TELL ME MORE Backtalk segment. That and the guys in the Barbershop coming up.

But first, a poll just out from a politically focused group called Latino Decisions gives us a glimpse into how the national housing crisis is affecting the fastest-growing segment of this nation's population, Latinos. The poll was cosponsored by impreMedia, an Hispanic news content provider.

While foreclosures have dropped significantly since last year, analysts say the states that still have high foreclosure rates also have increasing Latino populations. We wanted to know more about what this poll means. So we've reached out to Matt Barreto. He's a pollster at Latino Decisions and director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. He joins us from his home office in Seattle.

Also joining us is Manuel Ochoa. He's the regional director of home ownership for the Latino Economic Development Corporation, which provides help in small business development and affordable housing preservation. He's here with us right here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Mr. MATT BARRETO (Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race): Thank you, Allison.

Mr. MANUEL OCHOA (Latino Economic Development Corporation): Matt, how are Latinos doing in this housing crisis?

Mr. BARRETO: We have found significant results here that Latinos are very concerned over the housing situation. And at the same time we found that the Latino population here is very supportive of government solutions to this crisis. They want to see action and they don't want to see people just standing on the sidelines while they're losing their houses.

KEYES: I'd like to play a clip of tape from someone we reached by way of our Facebook page. This is Josephine Lopez-Roma from Chillicoffee, Ohio.

Ms. JOSEPHINE LOPEZ-ROMA: I left my job in May of last year and went on unemployment, which was frightening because I was making almost $50,000 a year, and used my savings to pay for my mortgage, thinking that I would be able to get another job. And we have no options. We'll stay in the house as long as possible, even though we haven't been able to make a payment since September.

KEYES: I've actually heard similar stories out on the streets in Washington. Matt, your poll shows that 51 percent of respondents say they've used up all or most of their savings just because of the cost of rent or mortgage. I mean, does that mean most people out there are just hanging on?

Mr. BARRETO: Yeah. I think that that's an excellent point and that clip really backs up what we're finding empirically in the data across the nation - that a majority, 51 percent, of Latino-registered voters say that they've used up all or most of their savings just in the last 12 months because of the cost of their rent or mortgage.

And an additional 34 percent say they're unable to pay for other basic necessities - food, utilities and other bills. This is something that is really affecting people very, very deeply. There's been a lot of job losses. There was a high increase in home ownership during the 1990s and early 2000s. And so you have people who do want to hold on to that American dream and they want to hold onto what they have. But it's going to be very difficult, I think. There is still a very high percentage of people in the Latino community who are just right on the edge and we may be seeing the implications of that in the next few months if the government doesn't provide additional mortgage assistance.

KEYES: Manuel, I'd like to bring you into the conversation. Your organization, the Latino Economic Development Corporation, works on housing-related issues among other things. How is this specifically affecting Latinos as this housing crisis continues to evolve?

Mr. OCHOA: It's been very difficult for Latinos. Part of it has to do with the language barrier, but just also the overwhelming amount of information in order to fill out a modification. A lot of clients that we've seen have tried to do it on their own, have been unsuccessful. And unfortunately they've also been the victims of scams.

So what we've seen, the trend that we've seen is that people, particularly Latinos, have been scammed and they come to us six to nine months later and it's much more difficult to find a positive outcome for them and truly help them get a modification or something, or a solution that can get them back on the right track.

KEYES: So by the time they come to you for help, there's not much you can do for most people? I understand that only seven percent of the people that try to handle this on their own get any kind of resolution.

Mr. OCHOA: That's correct. Housing counseling agencies in the metro region work very hard to try to find the right solution for people, not just modifications. And we do have a lot of success. We have more success helping people than if people do it on their own. But when people come to us many months more later, then the positive outcomes narrow down - the ability to be able to help them.

KEYES: Let me just remind our listeners who are just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Matt Barreto, a pollster for Latino Decisions and Manuel Ochoa of the Latino Economic Development Council. We're looking at a recent poll that gives some insight into how the federal housing crisis is affecting Latinos. Matt, let me come back to you, 'cause I understand foreclosures isn't the whole story here. There's also some data on how Latino renters feel about the current housing crisis.

I'd like to play a clip of tape of Francis Lamone(ph), a Latina who rents an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia right outside of Washington. And it's an area that has seen the second highest rent increase in the nation.

Ms. FRANCIS LAMONE: Most of the money that I used from my savings are my retirement funds, so it's basically to pay rent. And many a month I was kind of on tenderhooks to see whether or not I was going to manage to make rent or not that month.

And then my plan was to maybe go back to Mexico, where I had a family, or Chile, where I also have family, and basically leave the United States after living here for just about 20 years.

KEYES: Matt, what are you hearing on that? On the renter issue?

Mr. BARRETO: Well, you know, I think the renter issue is an important one that's been lost in this national debate. There's been almost an obsession with homeowners. And of course home ownership is an important part of our economy. But there is still a very high percentage of people who are renting their homes - not just young people, but across the spectrum. We found that 43 percent of renters are very worried that they may not be able to continue living in their same house.

And already, 34 percent of renters have said that they've had to move in the last 12 months as a result of the high cost of their rent - a much higher rate than among homeowners. So homeowners are really trying to hold on to their house. They have something. But renters are already being squeezed. And they're moving around. We have a much higher level of both economic and housing anxiety among renters.

And in the Latino population there is a significant number of renters. The data that we're giving you from the imperMedia Latino Decisions poll is among registered voters. So this is among a fairly stable or assimilated part of the population, people who are U.S. citizens and registered to vote.

In the grand scheme of things, for the entire adult U.S. Latino population, we know that these factors and these problems are much worse, they're much deeper. You have a lot of people who are not citizens, legal permanent residents, perhaps, but are much more economically vulnerable and may be renting. And in our data the renters are really, really bearing a brunt of this as the price of rent goes up, but their wages are not going up.

KEYES: Manuel is nodding.

Mr. OCHOA: Yes, it's true. The other thing we see here in the D.C. region are multifamily foreclosures. So large apartment buildings that go into foreclosure, and there's a lot of concern, particularly among Latinos, about having to get told that they have to move out immediately. Now, luckily in D.C....

KEYES: Which you don't have to do under D.C. law.

Mr. OCHOA: That's correct. But we have to get the word out. So there's a lot of misinformation and - including even in places that don't have as many protections as they do in D.C. They still have up to three months under federal law. But we have to get the word out. So a lot of people are fearful that once they hear that their landlord has gone into foreclosure, that they have to move out immediately. And that's not the case. So that causes even more nervousness on part of Latinos.

KEYES: Manuel, I'm wondering, are you finding increasing numbers of Latinos seeking some sort of relief to help offset these problems? The housing problems?

Mr. OCHOA: Yes. You know, one of the new programs that we have that just rolled out in Maryland is the emergency mortgage assistance program that we just got word that we can start this week. And it's to help people pay for the amount that they're in arrears. It's not for everybody. But it is for people who have started to get back on their feet but now owe an amount to the bank that they have in arrears. And this will help them pay for that. So it's a short-term loan that can help them.

So those are the kinds of things that we can provide. We also talk a lot to people about budgeting and coming into their own, you know, finding out what their new reality is, and budgeting for that. That's one of the important things that we do.

KEYES: Matt, one of the questions you asked in your study was interesting because you asked who Latinos specifically were looking to for(ph) relief for some of these housing-related issues. Can you tell us?

Mr. BARRETO: Yeah, we asked people who they thought was to blame for the housing situation that we're currently faced. Whether or not they thought that it was the banks, the federal government, who was really oh, the independent individuals for taking loans that they couldn't afford. We've heard a lot of rhetoric about that.

And it was clear that the Latino community was putting a primary amount of the blame here on banks and financial institutions. I think that there is a high percentage of people who perceive that lenders and financial institutions were not being honest with average Americans when they were making these high-risk loans. And also, the federal government for not providing enough regulation of banks.

KEYES: But didn't you also find that they were looking to the government for solutions for this?

Mr. BARRETO: Yeah. And I think, as a result, you know, one of the things that came through in there was that, you know, some of the folks in that question have said who's to blame for this crisis, you know, some already volunteered it, saying, well, the government should've provided more regulation. Some of these bills that are being debated in the U.S. Senate and perhaps will come back in the U.S. House, these are issues that the Latino community is very concerned about and very supportive of.

They want to see the government not just throw money at this, but to provide solutions to get in and to not let the banks and the lending institutions sort of run wild on this issue.

KEYES: Manuel, I've got to jump in here because we've got a very short time left, and I just want to ask you, from your clients, are you hearing that despite all of these issues, there's still some optimism out there, that people think that this is going to resolve in some way?

Mr. OCHOA: There is some optimism, but you know, the perception is also the reality of our experience as housing counselors. There's a lot of frustration, banks do not respond. We have to keep re-faxing documents over and over, documentation's getting lost. So there's a lack of enforcement. So it's not just more regulation. What we need is enforcement on Treasury's part to make banks do what they need to do and actually offer them a better payment or better solutions that they can stay in their home.

KEYES: Manual Ochoa is regional director of home ownership for the Latino Economic Development Corporation here in Washington, D.C. Matt Barreto is a pollster for the politically focused Latino Decisions. He joined us from his home office in Washington State. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. OCHOA: Thank you, Allison.

Mr. BARRETO: Thank you.

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