Welcomed buyers


THE NATIONAL housing boom that is transforming Baltimore's real estate market and breathing new life into once shuttered and shunned neighborhoods is bringing an added benefit - immigrant homeowners who fit nicely into the city's long-term plans to reverse large population declines.

The O'Malley administration, which is actively courting immigrants and refugees, should take advantage of increased rates of homebuying by immigrants to further its population growth plans. It could aggressively market Baltimore to immigrant homebuyers as a relatively affordable city in a region where home prices are skyrocketing and often out of reach to first-time buyers. Such a strategy would show the city to be welcoming of immigrant homebuyers and might eventually make future homebuyers of their children. According to housing studies, second-generation immigrants have higher incomes and are better educated than their parents.

According to a new report by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, immigrants will account for about one-third of household growth nationally in the next decade. Additionally, the children of immigrants will be major contributors to housing demand as their numbers grow. By the time they reach "prime household-formation age," they will help shore up demand for starter homes, rental apartments and condominiums, and will compel the housing and mortgage industries to increase outreach to Hispanic and Asian households. These two groups raised the minority share of first-time homebuyers from 22 percent to 35 percent between 1991 and 2003, and the share of new homebuyers from 13 percent to 24 percent during the same period.

Live Baltimore, an organization that promotes the city, has wisely started reaching out to potential immigrant homebuyers. Earlier this month, the agency teamed up with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote homeownership in the city to Latino immigrants at HUD's annual homeownership fair. Live Baltimore is also planning to launch an advertising campaign on Spanish-language radio stations. That's a good start. The city should also target immigrant business groups and Spanish-language newspapers.

A study by the University of Southern California found that large numbers of immigrants are leaving established gateway metropolitan areas - New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego - with the largest numbers of settled immigrants and migrating to 14 "emerging gateways," including the Washington-Baltimore area.

Citywide, 46.2 percent of the foreign-born population lives in owner-occupied housing, compared with 52.4 percent of the native-born population. Given current population growth trends, there is much potential for Baltimore to add its name to the list of cities with vibrant communities enriched by the mix of American and immigrant cultures.

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