Mortgage Bankers Targeting Immigrants

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Owning their own home is out of financial reach for many immigrants. But mortgage bankers increasingly are using creative financing to target legal and illegal immigrants as a new market of first-time homebuyers.


Each year more than a million immigrants enter the United States hoping for a piece of American prosperity. Whether they arrive legally or illegally, many end up getting steady jobs, raising children and paying taxes. Yet up until yesterday, the Holy Grail of the American dream, owning your own home, was out of reach for most immigrant families. But as Nancy Mullane reports, that's beginning to change.

NANCY MULLANE reporting:

Ofalia Arbena(ph) has just finished putting pictures on the walls of her new cream-colored stucco home. She's planted a lawn, bright pink flowers, an avocado tree and some vegetables in her garden.

Ms. OFALIA ARBENA (Homeowner): And we have tomatoes over there and peppers, really hot peppers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MULLANE: More than 30 years ago, Ofalia entered the US from Mexico illegally with her family. Since then, she's gotten her green card and raised four children in housing provided to field workers. She says she never even dreamed of owning her own home until last year when she applied for and got her first home loan.

Ms. ARBENA: Just being in the house was so exciting that I didn't want to do anything, but just give me time. So finally, I started putting just little things on the wall.

MULLANE: According to Nick Retsinas, the director of a recent report by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, immigrants are poised to become the bread and butter of the mortgage industry's future.

Mr. NICK RETSINAS (Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies): The question of whether or not to reach out, whether or not to connect, whether or not to provide services to immigrants is not a question of social justice or equity. It is a business imperative.

MULLANE: Many immigrants have little or no experience shopping for or buying a house. So some national mortgage companies are reaching out to them, building marketing campaigns and providing how-to videos to local real estate brokers to use on Latino radio and television stations.

Unidentified Woman: Buyer: comprador, comprador. Clear title: titulo limpio.

MULLANE: An increasing number of mortgage lenders are also offering creative financing options. Families can pool their down payment. The on-time payment of utility bills can be used to prove creditworthiness, and some lenders are working with people who are paid mostly or exclusively in cash. While Ofalia's loan required a green card or proof of legal residency in the US, many lenders aren't that picky.

Mr. DAVID MOTLEY (Colonial National Mortgage): The people that we are particularly trying to appeal to right now are those people who are undocumented workers.

MULLANE: David Motley is executive vice president of Colonial National Mortgage, a large mortgage lender based in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Mr. MOTLEY: There are people that don't have green cards. They're not residing in the United States legally, but it's been sort of anecdotally proven that they're good payers and they pay taxes, and they're contributing to society, so our philosophy is, why not help them be homeowners?

MULLANE: In order to buy a home, you need to be able to prove you're a good financial risk, a tough job for an undocumented immigrant with no bank account or credit history, but the IRS has made it easier in recent years by issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINs, to people without Social Security cards. The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals says by lifting the barriers for undocumented immigrants to obtain mortgages, companies like Colonial are tapping into a multibillion-dollar market. Gary Acosta is chairman of the Hispanic Realtors Group.

Mr. GARY ACOSTA (Hispanic Realtors Group): This is one segment of the market where you can really roll up your sleeves and develop a strategy and be entrepreneurial.

MULLANE: With the surge in immigration over the past decade, housing experts believe such enthusiasm is justified, and they say much of the home-buying market will be sustained by the immigrant population, legal and illegal, for decades to come. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

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