BARRIERS TO HOMEOWNERSHIP
But even if lawmakers eased immigration into this country for groups hungry for better education and economic prosperity, immigrants still face significant barriers to homeownership, the biggest of which is access to credit. NAHREP’s CEO, Gary Acosta, said the way today’s loans are underwritten hasn’t changed much from 50 years ago. “People earn money in nontraditional ways, and not everybody is a W-2 wage earner,” he said. And that reality applies to the native-born as well. “We need new metrics for analyzing credit worthiness,” he said. “It’s not about lowering the bar; it’s about widening the window.”
Hope Atul, executive director of the AREAA, agrees, noting that lack of access to mortgage financing is also the result of recent immigrants not having a credit history. They may have sufficient funds available for a down payment, but because they came from a culture where borrowing was frowned upon, they can’t present a strong credit score to banks.
Atul says lenders need to employ new credit score modeling methodologies like the Advantage Score as opposed to relying exclusively on FICO. The AREAA is strongly behind passage of H.R. 123, which supports establishment of an alternative credit rating system designed to make home ownership more accessible to immigrants, though Atul admits she doesn’t see that legislation getting anywhere in a presidential election year.
H.R. 123, if passed, would be a boon to all immigrants, not just Asian-Americans, whom Atul sees as unfairly lumped into the same category as wealthy Chinese real estate investors from abroad who purchase everything in cash.
Atul says the housing industry as a whole also needs to look at addressing cultural and language barriers. “What are Asian-Americans looking for in a home? And how do they develop trust?” she asked.
A PLACE TO GO…
When Brooklyn, New York, Realtor Janine Acquafredda’s parents migrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, they were looking for the same thing the vast majority of immigrants are — a better life for themselves and their children. Neither was college-educated, but they felt they could build a better life here for the next generation. Acquafredda rented for 10 years, then purchased her first home in 2005.
“I wanted the American Dream,” she said. “I wanted to do what my parents and grandparents couldn’t.” To her, homeownership is a defining feature of success. “I felt it was security. No one else in my family owns. It’s peace of mind knowing no matter what happens, my family always has a place to go.”