Most Blacks, Hispanics in Area Own Homes

By Lyndsey Layton and Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

A majority of black and Hispanic households in metropolitan Washington now own their houses instead of renting, according to new data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The new numbers, reflecting changes from 2000 to 2005, underscore the Washington region's affluence and strong economy. During the half-decade of soaring housing prices, whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics were all more likely to own their homes in the region than nationally.

Some of the most dramatic shifts are taking place in the District, where African Americans are no longer a majority among homeowners.

In 2000, 54 percent of D.C. homeowners were black, and 41 percent were white. But a decline of 6,000 black homeowners since then, and a surge of 7,000 additional white homeowners, brought the two groups to virtual parity in the 2005 survey. The decline in black homeowners in the District was offset by growth in the suburbs.

The continuing loss of black, middle-class homeowners in the city is bound to have reverberations, said Peter A. Tatian, a housing expert at the Urban Institute.

"It's a real issue in those [heavily African American neighborhoods]; there's not a solid base of people who have ownership in the community, an investment that they want to fight to protect. It tends to be harder to bring about positive changes," said Tatian, who directs NeighborhoodInfo DC, a grass-roots group working to improve quality of life.

The data mark "a symbolic passing," he said. "In this city, those kinds of issues always seem to have political ramifications."

Regionwide, more than 260,000 African Americans owned homes in 2005. The growth was much more rapid in the 1990s but continued this decade, increasing from 49 percent of black households to 51 percent. Prince George's County, where more than three in five African Americans own their homes, gained 15,000 black homeowners this decade and now has 45 percent of the black homeowners in the region.

Homeownership among immigrants also shows significant growth. About 63 percent of local immigrants own their homes, higher than the national rate of 55 percent, census figures show.

The immigrant housing data reflect the highly mobile, growing local market. A homeowner in Montgomery County is as likely to have been born abroad as to be a Maryland native. Same thing in Arlington and Fairfax counties. Overall, the number of immigrants and state native homeowners is dwarfed by the number of homeowners who moved from other states.

Particularly striking was the growing number of Hispanics who bought homes in the Washington area from 2000 to 2005, many of them settling in expensive suburbs such as Fairfax and Montgomery. Across the region, Hispanics surpassed blacks in homeownership rates last year.

"It says a lot about the upward mobility of Hispanics," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. "Washington is not only an example of a metropolitan area with melting pot suburbs, but it has melting pot suburbs where immigrants are achieving the American dream."

More than 80,000 Hispanics owned their home in the region last year, the census says, the first time a majority of Hispanics have owned rather than rented. Fairfax and Montgomery each gained about 5,000 Hispanic homeowners, and the number grew by more than 7,000 each in Prince William and Prince George's counties.

"This is not an accident," said Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring), a Montgomery County Council member and former head of CASA of Maryland, which helps Hispanics with housing, employment training and other services. "Government and nonprofits and the banking community as well have spent a lot of time and effort to prepare and assist people in saving money, building credit, paying bills on time, getting themselves in a position to qualify for a loan.

"In Latino communities, a lot of effort has been made to stress homeownership as one of the keys to self-sufficiency," Perez said. "The most common way to accumulate wealth in America is to own a home. That is a basic fact of American life, and Latinos have clearly gotten the message."

For many Hispanics, homeownership is security, said Carlos Devis, a Colombian immigrant who bought a house with his wife in Potomac in 2003. "For Latinos, we don't have 401(k)s," he said, referring to the employer-sponsored retirement fund. "The house is the 401(k)."

Evelyn Andrade, a Salvadoran American hairdresser, bought a three-bedroom house in Rockville in 2001 after years of renting an apartment. "The rents are so high, it doesn't make sense," said Andrade, 29, who is married and has three children. "I always thought it was better to own."

Almost 100,000 Asians own houses, condominiums and townhouses locally, triple the number in 1990. Homeownership among Asians increased about 71 percent regionwide between 2000 and 2005. Asians posted particularly high rates in Loudoun County, where about 96 percent owned their homes last year. That's far above Asians' national rate of 59 percent.

Farhan Syed, a real estate broker in Loudoun, knows this phenomenon well. "Most Asians happen to be dual-income families, well-educated, able to afford a home," he said. "Everyone wants the American dream."

When the real estate market began to heat up in the Washington region in 2000, buying a home seemed like a financially savvy move, Syed said. "There was the perception that real estate could be a money-making scheme, and a lot of people got in the market."

Tannaz Haddadi and her husband, Darius Powerz, are typical. They were both born in Iran and immigrated as children with their families to Fairfax. Haddadi, 29, and Powerz, 34, first bought a townhouse in Loudoun and traded up for a single-family home in Fairfax two years ago. "There are a lot of working professionals like us, first- or second-generation citizens who want to get in early and work our way up," said Haddadi, who, like her husband, works for the federal government.

The population figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau today are based on the American Community Survey, which gathered demographic data from those living in the United States last year.

The figures for the Washington region do not reflect changes to the population numbers for the District that the Census Bureau approved in July, after the city challenged earlier data and said the census had undercounted the city's population by more than 31,000 people.

Some embassy officials and advocacy groups say the population figures for minority groups could be even higher because the census undercounts those groups.

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