Nationwide Latinx homeownership initiative begins in Central Florida
A new initiative to narrow homeownership gaps among Latinx people in the U.S. kicked off locally Monday at a roundtable event in the Ana G. Méndez University Metro-Orlando campus.
The initiative is called HOME, which stands for Home Ownership Means Equity, on the premise that owning a house is one of the most valuable assets a working family can have. It was launched by UnidosUS, a national nonpartisan organization and the largest to advocate for Hispanic civil rights, according to its website.
HOME’s leadership set a goal to create four million new Latinx homeowners in the U.S. by the year 2030 — and the Central Florida market in Orlando is in the first cohort.
Laura Arce, UnidosUS senior vice president of economic initiatives, said there are three main reasons to target Orlando.
“One is the importance of the Latino community in terms of population growth and economic impact,” she said. “A second reason is, it’s an opportunity to bring people together around what the right solutions are in terms of increasing the building of affordable and entry level homes (...) And the third piece is, one big asset in the Orlando area are leaders and stakeholders who are really committed to the issues here.”
Barriers and challenges
According to UnidosUS, about 53% of Florida’s population growth in the last 10 years has been Latinx people, yet Latinx homeownership has only increased by 11.2%.
Arce said this gap is largely due to the current and historical barriers facing Latinx workers.
“In many parts of the country, the median income for Latinos is much lower than, say, the median home for white households. And that’s driven just in part by what employment sectors we’ve been in, as well as discrimination,” she said.
Arce also said other challenges include language barriers, a lack of accumulated generational wealth, and a lack of access to financial literacy — all of which the initiative aims to tackle.
Traci Blue, director of strategic community initiatives at Bright Community Trust, was at the event as well. Earlier this year, Blue and BCT launched a similar campaign, the BIPOC @ Home Program, aimed at increasing homeownership for Black and Indigenous people of color.
Blue expanded on the issues holding Latinx people from buying homes — such as language.
“I went to a training that was called ‘The 15 Steps of Home Buying.’ That’s a lot of steps for anyone,” Blue said. “As a homeowner, as a person who has already been through the process, and as someone who works in this industry, that can be overwhelming and daunting, even if you speak perfect English. If you don’t and are trying to communicate in a language that isn’t your first, through all the paperwork, and the technical and legal terms (...) it can turn people away because it’s too much, and they can’t figure it out.”
For these cases, Blue said, she suggests mentorship and guidance programs that take people through the steps and provide support, as well as education on financial literacy.
However, discrimination, she said, is a different barrier that is still a reality and more complicated.
“We all know there’s the Civil Rights Act and other laws against discrimination, but I’m sure we all recognize those things still exist,” Blue said. “When a person of color walks into a financial institution, depending on who they’re sitting across from, there may already be some barriers that exist and some assumptions that are made about whether they can afford the hoe or what their credit looks like.”
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, an advocate for affordable housing in the state, was in attendance at the event. He said the last 10-15 years in the Central Florida housing market have been a “roller coaster.”
“I bought a house in East Orlando over by Semoran at 182 (thousand dollars) in 2005, and it dropped to like $80,000 in 2009,” Soto said. “It’s now worth $365,000.”
The market has presented several opportunities for investment, he said, but many families lacked the ability to enter the market then. Soto said he is looking to change that now.
“For most Americans, this is going to be their biggest asset,” Soto said of homeownership. “We want to make sure, whether it’s the Hispanic community or any constituency, that they have the ability to buy into this market, have a place for them and their families, and be able to really grow their wealth.”
Soto and housing experts said homeownership is a building block for family security, which includes the healthy development of children — housing stability has been proven to aid academic performance. Homeownership can also provide a path for working parents to eventually become financially independent and start businesses, something the Hispanic community is known to do.
The latter was found in the work of UCF’s Puerto Rico Research Hub, led by UCF Sociology Professor Fernando Rivera. The Hub studied the incorporation of Puerto Ricans into Central Florida, especially after the disaster of Hurricane María in 2017.
Rivera said Latinx migrants help grow a region’s economy.
“We know from research that those migrant climates do have a positive impact on the community. (Migrants) are likely to start a business, which leads to increasing employment and wages of local residents,” Rivera said. “Most importantly, they bring an important set of skills that complement the skill set of the populations here.”
Sacrifice should pay off
According to Rivera, one of the barriers in Latinx homeownership is migration. He said, in Orlando, 52% of Puerto Rican residents were born outside the U.S. The same is true, he said, for 43% of Cubans and 73% of South Americans living in Orlando.
He said migrants have a disadvantage, regardless of professional history or work ethic, as navigating the process is not an option when many lack access and guidance, such as understanding things like American taxes or filling out forms in English.
“How do you go through this homeownership process? Arriving in a new location, without documentation,” Rivera said. “A lack of official documentation prevents some migrants from establishing bank accounts and their ability to work for pay.”
According to Rivera, another hardship is the cultural shock of expectation versus reality. He said hard working Latinx people who come to the U.S. are not experiencing the American Dream as expected. He said many are finding that making money and getting ahead means giving up quality of life, such as family time, something Latinx cultures normally value more than money.
“That process of looking for a job, of looking for a house, sometimes it’s more complicated than is usually broadcast. People that had worked two and three jobs, the consequence of that is losing family time, time for activities and those types of things,” Rivera said.
Rivera said the reality is that Central Florida, while an economic driving engine, is not necessarily an area of high-paying jobs, forcing people without accumulated wealth or connections to work a lot harder to survive and thrive.
“We have a lot of entry level jobs; those are the ones that are available. So that brings a lot of challenges for a lot of people to survive on” he said. “The consequence is that you separate from your family and that social support that is important to have, especially as your individual well-being, as well as your family’s, erodes.”
Rivera said he will be providing the initiative with his research findings, to help further identify and tackle barriers keeping Latinx people from owning homes.
The initiative is just getting started and coming up with solutions to overcome the challenges listed, the group said, such as down payment assistance programs and financial mentoring.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.