Owning a Home as an Undocumented Immigrant

For many immigrants, owning a home is a sign of having achieved the American dream. With the economic recession and housing market downturn, there has been some concern about the decline in overall homeownership rates; however, immigrants remain enthusiastic about homeownership. The homeownership rate among the foreign-born population in 2015 was fifty percent, only ten percent lower than the rate among the U.S.-born population, but for undocumented immigrants, the dream of homeownership seems unattainable.

Although more immigrants own homes than ever before, the rate varies by country of origin and immigrant status.1 Immigrants from Italy, Canada and Germany had the highest rates of homeownership, while immigrants from Haiti, Dominican Republic and Mexico have the lowest. Undocumented immigrants face the biggest barriers to homeownership and they are, by and large, from Mexico. There are eleven million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States and thirty-five percent of them are homeowners, half the rate of U.S.-born households. Buying a home is a lengthy process requiring extensive documentation and an established credit history and more often than not, undocumented immigrants have neither—not to mention the precariousness of being in the United States in the first place.

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Immigrant family in the United States. Source: Ray_LAC, Creative Commons.

However, legal status is not the only thing that can impact homeownership rates. Being older, married or having kids increases the likelihood of owning a home, as does higher education levels and better incomes. Undocumented immigrants are typically younger, unmarried, less educated and more impoverished than their documented counterparts.2 This population also moves more frequently than documented immigrants or US-born residents.3 Although homeownership rates tend to increase with the time spent in the United States and language ability, only forty-five percent of undocumented immigrants who have been living in the country for over ten years own homes.

Until recently, immigrants tended to live in large metropolitan areas with high housing costs, which can partially explain the difference between US-born and foreign-born homeownership. Typically, these cities have large ethnic communities which provide social networks and financial resources to recent arrivals. One study suggests that living in an ethnic enclave boosts chances of owning a home, perhaps due to shared knowledge of the process and friendly lending institutions.4 These findings were supported by a study in Los Angeles that found that undocumented immigrants from Mexico had the same possibilities of owning a home as other residents. It’s possible that immigrant-friendly cities like Los Angeles offer better opportunities for those who can afford high housing prices because institutions cater to immigrant needs and communities can share knowledge.5 As immigrants begin to settle in suburbs and smaller cities with lower costs of living and smaller ethnic communities, it will be interesting to see how homeownership rates change.

 

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Street art in a community near Los Angeles. Source: Joey Zanotti, Creative Commons.

Despite the many barriers, undocumented immigrants have found ways to buy homes through cash payment and even mortgages. Financial institutions have started to recognize their potential as an untapped market. Estimates show that undocumented Latinos could generate an additional $40 billion in mortgages.6 Some banks have relaxed documentation requirements accepting individual tax identification numbers (ITIN) or matricula consulars, a type of identification issued by the Mexican government.7 For the most part, these mortgages are issued by small community-based lenders like Guadalupe Credit Union in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which has issued $16 million in ITIN loans, with a delinquency rate of 1.24 percent.8 With Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) under President Obama, a number of people who arrived in the United States as children were also able to access mortgages and buy homes.

It is unclear what will happen to these undocumented homeowners under President Trump. Over 50,000 deportation orders were submitted in the first year that Trump has been in office which raises concern and fear among immigrant communities. Research shows that deportations lead to a higher rate of foreclosure among Latino communities because a loss of income makes it difficult to make mortgage payments.9 However, deportations could also mean a big economic loss for the United States since undocumented immigrants pay as much as $3.6 billion in property taxes.10 Despite what some may believe, undocumented immigrants contribute to our communities and our economies in real ways.

Sources:

  1. Eileen Diaz McConnell. “Hurdles or walls? Nativity, citizenship, legal status and Latino homeownership in Los Angeles,” Social Science Research, 53, (2015): 19–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.04.009
  2. Eileen Diaz McConnell et al. “Buying into the American dream? Mexican immigrants, legal status, and homeownership in Los Angeles County,” Social Science Quarterly, 88(1), (2007): 199–221. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2007.00454.x
  3. Jeffrey Passel et al. “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States.” Pew Research Center, April 14 2009, http://www.pewhispanic.org/2009/04/14/a-portrait-of-unauthorized-immigrants-in-the-united-states/
  4. George Borjas. “Homeownership in the immigrant population. Journal of Urban Economics, 52(3) (2002): 448–476, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0094-1190(02)00529-6
  5. McConnell, 2015.
  6. Rob Paral, “The Potential for New Homeownership Among Undocumented Latino Immigrants”, The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, 2014, http://robparal.com/downloads/NAHREP%20report.pdf
  7. Eileen Diaz McConnell et al. “Through the front door: The housing outcomes of new lawful immigrants,” International Migration Review, 42(1) (2008): 134–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-7379.2007.00116.x
  8. Jana Kasperkevic, “The American Dream: How undocumented immigrants buy homes in America,” Marketplace, September 11, 2017, https://www.marketplace.org/2017/09/08/economy/american-dream-how-undocumented-immigrants-buy-homes-us
  9. Reema Khrais, “What happens to your house when you get deported,” Marketplace, August 10, 2017, https://www.marketplace.org/2017/08/10/economy/little-noticed-effect-deportations-foreclosures
  10. Kasperkevic, see above.

About the Author: Lucia Constantine is a first-year master’s student in the Department of City and Regional Planning. Her scholarly interests include immigrant integration into cities and affordable housing. Prior to coming to UNC, Lucia worked in higher education and graduated from Stanford.