Buying home in another language

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Since moving to Baltimore two years ago from his native Peru, Pedro Palomino has dreamed of leaving his Greektown apartment and buying a home for his wife and three children.

But achieving that dream hasn't been easy. There's the money issue, of course. But Palomino, who speaks only a hint of English, says the bigger hurdle has been negotiating the complex home-buying process.

"I always felt like I would be tricked," he said through a translator.

That's why the 43-year-old warehouse worker and his wife yesterday joined more than 80 other prospective Hispanic home buyers at St. Patrick's Church Hall for a bilingual workshop on home-buying.

Sponsored by the mayor's office and the nonprofit Centro de la Comunidad, it's part of a push by government officials, banks and real estate agencies to convert the growing Hispanic community from renters to homeowners.

According the latest Census Bureau figures, the city's Hispanic population grew from 7,602 in 1990 to 11,061 in 2000, or about 1.7 percent of the city's population. In Baltimore County, the number of Hispanic residents has nearly doubled - from 7,645 in 1990 to 13,774 in 2000.

Jose Ruiz, the mayor's liaison to the Hispanic community, said it doesn't take a demographer to see the difference Hispanic residents have made to sections of Baltimore. On Broadway in Fells Point, for example, formerly rundown blocks are now thriving with Spanish-language restaurants and businesses.

"Their numbers are growing big-time," he said.

But city officials and neighborhood boosters are trying to help Hispanic residents put down roots in other parts of Baltimore.

"Baltimore needs people," said Joan Mitchell, marketing coordinator for Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., one of the areas the city is trying to promote to Hispanic home buyers. "And you can't just have all single yuppies - you need families with kids."

Last year, an Abell Foundation report concluded that attracting large numbers of immigrants was going to be crucial to reversing Baltimore's half-century population decline.

To that end, the nonprofit Live Baltimore for the first time will offer a Spanish-speaking version of its popular home buyers trolley tour. The tour, which will concentrate on east-side neighborhoods, will gather at 10 a.m. Saturday at City College, 3220 The Alameda.

The city, meanwhile, has earmarked $3,000 grants for 10 Latino families who close on homes within 90 days of the tour. This is in addition to 50 similar grants Baltimore already offers to the general public.

But grants and other financial incentives are just the first step to helping prospective Hispanic home buyers, officials and activists say. Another is overcoming language and cultural barriers.

Malik Rahman, a marketing associate with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, said the state is starting to print Spanish-language materials on low-interest loans and other programs for home buyers. Area real estate agencies, meanwhile, are employing more bilingual brokers - although their overall numbers remain low.

Spanish-speaking clients can mean extra work for bilingual agents.

Ana Zuniga, a bilingual agent with Coldwell Banker, says in addition to helping her clients find a house, she often finds herself making calls to hook up telephone and electrical service - and even tutoring buyers on how to obtain charge cards and bank accounts to establish solid credit histories.

"I have to do everything," she says.

But like city officials, Zuniga says the extra effort is worth it if it helps the city's Hispanic residents move into their own homes.

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