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Immigrant Homeownership Proves Resilient in the Face of Slowdown
Boosted by Boom, Rate Virtually Unchanged During Bust

By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The rate of homeownership in the United States is holding up better among immigrants than it is for native-born Americans, according to a study released yesterday.

The study, by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, analyzes housing, economic and demographic data from government agencies and private sources. It found that although immigrants are far less likely than their native-born counterparts to own a home, the rate of homeownership for immigrants during the housing bust has declined at a much slower pace than it has for those born in this country.

"Contrary, perhaps, to common perception, immigrants have not really fared as badly as one might have expected," said Rakesh Kochhar, an economist with Pew and an author of the study. "The forces of assimilation seem alive and well and have guided them through the troubles in the housing market."

The study found that the homeownership rate among immigrant households increased from 46.5 percent in 1995 to a peak of 53.3 percent in 2006 and then fell to 52.9 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the homeownership rate among native-born Americans increased from 66.1 percent in 1995 to 71.5 percent in 2004, peaking two years earlier than for immigrants, and then fell to 70 percent in 2008, according to the study.

Hispanic immigrants, the largest immigrant group in the United States, have not experienced a reversal in homeownership, according to the study. The homeownership rate among Hispanic immigrants increased from 36.9 percent in 1995 to 44.7 percent in 2007 and was unchanged in 2008.

The findings perhaps say more about demographic trends in the immigrant population than they do any propensity to make wise investments in the housing market. The main factor for gains in homeownership, 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.

Randy Capps, an analyst with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, said that the economic crisis has slowed the flow of migrants from Mexico. Recent immigrants are more likely to have unstable jobs and be in the country illegally, and thus less likely to seek homeownership, he said.

"The total foreign-born population of the U.S. has stabilized a bit, or come down a bit, since the start of the recession," he said. "What that means is those immigrants who are staying here are probably the ones who are more settled."

Despite those national trends, the report found, counties with higher shares of immigrants as residents had elevated rates of foreclosure. Local economic conditions, including unemployment rates, and factors such as local housing costs and a greater incidence of higher-priced lending to blacks and Hispanics were also key factors associated with higher rates of foreclosures in these counties, according to the study.

The study also found that since the start of the housing market free-fall in 2005, African Americans and U.S.-born Hispanics have seen the sharpest reductions in homeownership after making big gains during the boom.

The report says that though the national homeownership rate dropped to 67.8 percent in 2008 from 69 percent in 2004, the rate among blacks fell at a faster clip, to 47.5 percent from 49.4 percent, during those years. The homeownership rate for U.S.-born Hispanics fell the most quickly, to 53.6 percent in 2008 from its 2005 peak of 56.2 percent, according to the study.

Kochhar said the findings are a testament to the prevalence of subprime lending among these groups, whose members were much more likely than whites to finance their homes with high-risk mortgages and also more likely to take on heavier debt relative to their income.

"Minorities both gained first from the housing boom and suffered more -- experienced a more severe setback -- during the bust," Kochhar said. "The underlying factor of all this appears to be a greater likelihood of subprime borrowing by minorities, which is ultimately linked to higher rates of defaults and foreclosures."

The study analyzed data from a variety of sources, including demographic and homeownership data from the Census Bureau, loan data that lenders release under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, labor market data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home prices from the Federal Housing Finance Agency and foreclosure data from the private company RealtyTrac.

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