Foreign-Born Citizens Match Natives in Homeownership


Driven by a powerful desire to stake a claim in their new homeland, foreign-born citizens are buying homes at virtually the same rate as native-born Americans, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

Indeed, in two regions of the country--the West and Midwest--foreign-born citizens are more likely than native-born citizens to own their own homes, the study found.

Reacting to the report, analysts said it showed that many immigrants are highly motivated to purchase homes because they view property ownership as symbolic of success in their new country. Some noted that foreign-born citizens, particularly older immigrants, tend to be among the most aggressive and entrepreneurial residents of their homelands and bring that spirit with them to America.

“The very image of the United States as a destination for immigrants includes the ability to own one’s home, which hasn’t been accessible in many countries because of wage rates and the price of land,” said USC history professor Philip Ethington.

Judy Mark, communications coordinator at the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, said that the report counters “the stereotype that immigrants are people who just come here and take from Americans. These immigrants are saying loud and clear, by purchasing a home, that they want to be a part of American society and a part of their local communities.”

The report, based on 1996 data, found that among the nation’s households, 67.4% are owned by native-born citizens, barely more than the 66.9% figure for foreign-born citizens. Among noncitizens, the homeownership rate was 33.1%.

In the West, the homeownership rate among foreign-born citizens was 66.6%, compared with 62.4% among native-born citizens and 32.1% of noncitizens.

The study showed that foreign-born Latino citizens are more likely than native-born Latinos to own their own homes; the figures among those groups are 57% and 48%, respectively.

The report also found a strong correlation between the length of time foreign-born citizens have been in this country and homeownership. Among heads of households, roughly 77% of foreign-born citizens who came here before 1970 own their own homes, compared with 57% of foreign-born citizens who arrived after that year, the report found. Among foreign-born citizens who came here after 1990, about 36% are homeowners.

Dowell Meyers, a professor of urban planning at USC who has done extensive research on immigrant homeownership, said that--despite the overall link with length of time in this country--some differences emerge among ethnic groups.

Asian immigrants tend to arrive in the United States with more wealth and buying power and the ownership rates are roughly the same among new arrivals and those who have been here longer. By contrast, homeownership rates among other ethnic groups tend to double after each decade that they live in this country, Myers said.

The report’s findings came as no surprise at Oak Tree Realtors in Orange, Calif., where some brokers say that they are experiencing an unprecedented surge in property inquiries from Asians and Latinos who want to buy homes. Broker Ann Pettijohn said that the company has formed outreach programs with the Hispanic Assn. of Realtors to help understand the needs of their increasingly diverse clients. “They all want to own houses, that’s their biggest dream. It’s what they put aside money for,” Pettijohn said.