As an emerging consumer powerhouse, Hispanics are expected to play a crucial role in how well the housing market recovers from the recent recession, particularly in states like Connecticut where this population is gaining size and economic clout.
At the same time, there is a growing awareness among key players in Connecticut’s real estate sector of the need to make sure Hispanics who are more comfortable using Spanish than English have the consumer skills and support needed to make wise decisions in obtaining their first home.
This can include providing bilingual realty agents, lending officers and informational websites, such as the one launched last year by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, or offering first-time Latino homebuyers instructional and counseling programs, such as the one the Center for Latino Progress recently rolled out in Hartford.
The importance of this effort is underscored by studies such as the one Harvard University recently conducted that show that the nation’s growing Latino population will comprise 40 percent of all first time homebuyers in the United States. In addition, 80 percent of the Hispanic renters surveyed said they planned to buy a home in the next five years. The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals offered an even more optimistic assessment two years ago, predicting that that Hispanics would comprise 50 percent of all new homebuyers by 2020.
In Connecticut, leaders in the real estate and mortgage industries are also seeing signs of increased home buying activity among not only Hispanics entering the market for the first time, but also among those already established as homeowners.
There “absolutely” is growing interest among the state’s rising Latino population in making the move from renter to home owner according to Norbert Deslauriers, interim executive vice president of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, the self-sustaining quasi-public housing agency that the Legislature created to expand affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families and individuals. About one-third of CHFA’s current activities involve members of minority groups, DesLauriers noted.
Danny Torres, a Meriden real estate agent who also is a director of the Connecticut Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said that in Meriden, where there is a long-established Hispanic population, the growing affluence within this community is changing its role in marketplace. “In the beginning, there was a lot of interest in multi-family housing, such as condominiums, because that is what was affordable. Now you are seeing a second generation looking at homes that cost $250,000 or $300,000.”
Moreover, Torres said, looking at the property transfers that appear in local newspapers regularly, there are signs that Latinos are “buying everywhere.”
Pent-up demand is cited by NAHREP as a key ingredient in the upsurge in Hispanic home buying. Another factor that is bringing people into what has become a buyers market after several years of declining or stagnant home prices, is affordability.
Some second-generation buyers are finding mortgage interest rates are historically low and much less than what their parents paid, said Sandy Maier Schede, the president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, who has been in the realty business in Meriden for 42 years.
While making home buying economically feasible is the primary focus of CHFA, the agency also aims to make first-time homebuyers knowledgeable consumers and offers extensive information on its website, www.chfa.org.
CHFA focuses on three major areas, DesLauriers said. They are; providing education about home buying, which includes working with 15 approved counseling agencies, getting the right amount of credit, and saving, not only for a down payment but also for a rainy day, such as the need to replace a furnace.
This education component in recent years also has specifically targeted the needs of the state’s diverse Hispanic community, where in many cases Spanish is the first language.
Last year, CHFA launched a Spanish language website, www.hogarchfa.org, that focuses on how to understand home buying, said Lisa Kidder, director of communications for Rocky Hill based agency which, since its debut in 1969, helped more than 130,000 Connecticut individuals and families become homeowners through its low-interest, single-family mortgage programs.
In addition, three of the people CHFA sends out to talk to local groups about home buying speak Spanish, DesLauriers said.
The language factor also is something that receives consideration in the real estate industry. There are realty agents such as Torres, who can speak Spanish as well as connect buyers with bilingual attorneys and bankers.
The needs of the Hispanic community are also being addressed by the Center for Latino Progress, which offers a home buying and financial counseling program that is funded by the city of Hartford through community development block grants, and the National Council of LaRaza Homeownership Network, explains Yanil Teron, the nonprofit agency’s executive director. “The program is new to the agency,” she said, and was started to fill a gap left when Hartford Areas Rally Together, a South End community group with home ownership programs, folded last year.
One of the center’s goals is increase the “dismal” rate of homeownership in Hartford, Teron said, which is currently about 20 percent overall and about a third of the statewide average. About one-third of the home owners are Hispanic.
The center’s program encompasses the steps to follow in purchasing a home and also offers individual counseling and information about programs available to help first-time homebuyers come up with the down payment .
One potential source of down payment funds is CHFA which works with about 120 lenders statewide to assist potential homebuyers, who meet income and employment requirements as well as are seeking homes that fall within price limits, based on criteria set for individual towns. It is possible for homebuyers to borrow the down payment and even the closing costs if necessary, DesLauriers said.
Moreover, DesLauriers noted, that within Connecticut there are 19 federally designated targeted areas based on Census tracts where homebuyers can receive an additional quarter point off the CHFA mortgage rate bringing it down to 2.875 percent.
CHFA also is partnering with the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, DesLauriers said. This agency has a homeownership incentive program (HIP) that awards five $10,000 grants to employees of Trinity College, Hartford Hospital and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center who buy homes in Hartford. This grant is totally forgiven after five years of continued employment with the member institutions and continued occupancy in the home purchased.
Home ownership, Deslauriers said is vital to build communities and to keep people in Connecticut.