New arrivals to America’s shores may have financial and cultural challenges that earlier immigrants couldn’t have imagined. But today’s foreign-born residents are retelling the same story as the waves of immigrants who preceded them did about their quest for a better life, freedom, and prosperity, all of which continue to be measured, in part, by owning a home.
For Pranav Bhatt, homeownership is a matter of size and distance: He’s looking for a four-bedroom house that’s within 20 miles of his workplace at Siemens in Princeton, N.J., where he’s a software developer. Arney Mendez, a finance manager for a Ford dealership in Miami, recalls that his one “must have” for the home he bought last year was either a swimming pool or proximity to a lake. Mendez’s ultimate goal is to live by the ocean, and when asked if that dream is attainable, he responds, “Of course,” and then adds with a laugh, “I play [the lottery] every Saturday and Wednesday.”
The road to ownership for foreign-born buyers has its bumps, as Ana Lopez found out when she lost her job as a cost analyst for Aecom this spring, only eight months after she bought a 3,115-square-foot, two-family house for $196,000 in Lowell, Mass., with $8,000 in down-payment assistance through a local nonprofit housing group. (See “Helping Hand.") Luckily for Lopez she’s collecting $750 in monthly rent from her brother Junior, who lives with his wife and two children on the first floor. Nanta Buranakanchana, a jewelry store owner in Chicago, has owned several homes since coming to America in 1969. But practice doesn’t always make perfect, and in May she was trying to unload five investment condos she bought three years earlier.
These buyers—who emigrated to the U.S. from, respectively, India, Cuba, the Dominion Republic, and Thailand, and whose ages range from early 30s to mid 60s—are among the nearly 40 million foreign born living here, about 54 percent of whom arrived from Latin American countries, according to the latest Census estimates. Through the 2000s, immigrants accounted for 29 percent of the household growth in the U.S., versus 19 percent in the 1990s and 10 percent in the 1980s, according to Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California. Myers notes that more than half of all Latino immigrants in the Golden State own homes.
Latinos are not alone in their pursuit of the American dream. “The desire for ownership is profound in the Asian community,” says Jim Park, president of the San Diego–based Asian Real Estate Association of America, which represents 10,000 Realtors in 38 states. “Homeownership is a priority for Cubans,” adds Rei Mesa, president of Prudential Florida Realty in Miami, who oversees 52 sales offices.
Many builders peg their future growth on what once looked like an endlessly expanding immigrant population, and with good reason: Data released this April by the Pew Hispanic Center confirm that homeownership rates for both legal and undocumented immigrants rise after they’ve been here more than a decade (see “Sticking Around").