NEWS: American Dream Goes Global: More Immigrants Buying Land in
jancius at ohio.edu
Thu Jul 10 13:19:44 EDT 2008
American dream goes global
More immigrants buying land in native countries
The Boston Globe
By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / July 7, 2008
She was raised in a little wooden house with a thatched roof in the
Dominican Republic, a nation she left behind 17 years ago to clean offices
in Boston's skyscrapers and dorm rooms at Harvard University.
But now Vinela Arias is preparing to return home in style. A few weeks ago,
she and her boyfriend put a bid on a two-story stuccoed colonial in an elite
gated community in Santo Domingo with three bedrooms, a sundeck, and private
quarters for a live-in housekeeper.
One day, Arias hopes, she will never have to lift a mop again.
"It's the kind of house I dreamed of," said Arias, who arranges the
furniture in her new home in her mind while riding the bus from her Roxbury
neighborhood to work. "It's mine."
It is the American dream in reverse: Arias is part of a growing contingent
of immigrants who are gobbling up real estate in their native countries,
discouraged by high housing prices and foreclosures in the United States and
enticed by the possibility of returning home to a better life than the one
they left behind.
Developers from countries such as El Salvador, the Dominican Republic,
Mexico, and Peru are increasingly courting immigrants at housing fairs
across the United States, including two events in Massachusetts in the last
few weeks. Thousands of immigrants are buying homes in their native
countries every year, and more private lenders and some governments are
offering financing to sweeten the deal.
"It's something that's growing," said Romi Bhatia, vice president of
international operations for the Microfinance International Corporation, a
company based in Washington that makes financial services available to poor
people in developing countries, including a plan this month to offer
mortgages to Mexican immigrants in the United States. "There's a huge
untapped market," he said.
Buying houses has always been part of the immigrant experience in the United
States. An estimated 5 percent of immigrants - tens of thousands of people
nationwide - invest every year in some type of house project back home,
according to a 2005 survey of eight Latin American countries by Manuel
Orozco, a senior associate at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
But Orozco said immigrants still face barriers to buying homes. Often, they
cannot qualify for mortgages because they live in the United States, so they
send money to relatives who oversee construction of a home. Even when
immigrants qualify for loans, he said, interest rates are often
In recent years, though, more real-estate developers, private lenders, and
governments are making it easier for immigrants to buy homes directly,
according to government officials and the Inter-American Development Bank in
Washington. The Dominican Republic's government is allowing immigrants to
apply for up to $10,000 in aid for down payments. In Mexico, mortgage lender
Su Casita had loaned about $66 million in mortgages to 1,420 Mexican
immigrants in the United States as of early last year.
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El Salvador's government started coordinating housing fairs in the United
States two years ago because immigrants demanded it, officials said, to
avoid getting ripped off by fraudulent contractors. So far, the fairs have
attracted more than 4,000 Salvadorans; more than a quarter said they were
prospective buyers, according to the officials.
In Massachusetts, Salvadoran immigrants streamed into promotional events
last month for the English-named Riverside Gardens, a development in the
Salvadoran state of San Miguel. In restaurants in Chelsea, East Boston, and
Attleboro, potential buyers watched videos and flipped through brochures,
perusing properties ranging from vacant lots for $27,900 to lavish
red-roofed villas for more than $200,000.
The costs can be expensive in a country where the average income per capita
is less than $6,000 a year, but affordable for immigrants who earn US wages.
"It's all part of the market that we're looking for - the Salvadoran people
who live in the United States," Luis Urrutia, manager of Constructora
Universal, which owns Riverside Gardens, said in an interview from El
Salvador. "They should have something they can be proud of."
The companies are trying to attract immigrants with American-style
amenities, including manicured lawns, 24-hour high-tech security, and
prestige: Riverside Gardens' home models are dubbed Princeton and
Vanderbilt, and the grounds include a gym and hot tub.
Ronald Espinal, 25, of Attleboro, a sous chef who works 14-hour days at an
Italian restaurant, owns two empty lots in Riverside Gardens, including one
he bought last month for $32,000. Although he will soon be a US citizen, he
misses El Salvador and plans to build homes on the lots. He intends to use
the homes for vacations or, perhaps, retirement.
"I think about retiring, resting my body," he said in a phone interview as
pots and pans clanked in the background. "Here, you work all the time."
For Arias and her boyfriend Ramón Quiñonez, owning a home worth just over
$100,000 - which will cost them roughly $1,000 a month - will mark a
triumphant return to the Dominican Republic after years of sacrifice in the
Arias, the youngest of seven children, followed five older siblings to the
United States. The money they sent home built their parents a new house and
furnished it with comfortable chairs, a stove, and a microwave. And the
money they still send back pays for doctors' visits as their parents age.
Quiñonez graduated from college in the capital of Santo Domingo then gave up
a job at a TV station eight years ago to join his sister in Massachusetts
and to send money home to their mother. Now, instead of a coat and tie, he
wears an apron and baseball cap to stack organic vegetables at Whole Foods.
Their sacrifices meant years apart from their families. Arias is a US
citizen, but she doesn't quite feel at home on the gritty street in Roxbury
where she lives. He misses his career.
Both of them said they daydream about the house at work, though it will
probably be at least a decade before they can live there permanently. They
are buying the home through the Dominican group Delta Intur Corp., which
held its first housing fair in New England last month. Sales are jumping 8
percent a year, said sales executive Haydeé Rodríguez.
"That's part of my goal, a better life for my family," Quiñonez said. "I
think about it, and it inspires me to keep fighting and working. I've
acquired something - and I tell myself all this wasn't in vain."
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.
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