A growing number of immigrants are attracted to mid-size cities with lower housing costs, less competition for jobs, and increasing numbers of other immigrants, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate.

The study, "Immigrants and housing markets in mid-size metropolitan areas," found that a sample of 60 mid-size metropolitan cities saw an average 27 percent increase in new immigrants — those in the United States for less than 10 years — from 2000-05.

The cities’ total population of immigrants during that time rose to 9 percent of the population from 7.4 percent, according to Census data. According to a 2008 study, immigrants and their children will make up 82 percent of the nation’s population growth in the next four decades, growing by 117 million.

"The anticipated rapid growth of U.S. immigrant populations in the coming decades, coupled with their movement into mid-size metro areas, has the potential to transform communities. Our data suggest that immigrants are attracted to homes near active support networks of fellow immigrants and in places with lower rates of immigrant growth resulting in less competition for entry-level jobs," said Gary Painter, co-author of the study and the center’s director of research, in a statement.

Because studies concerning the immigrant population have generally focused on large metropolitan areas with the largest populations of immigrants, the researchers chose not to study established immigrant gateways — New York City, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. These cities continue to receive the largest numbers of new immigrants.

The study also excluded emerging gateway metro areas such as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, Calif., that have experienced a large increase in immigrant population in recent year.

The study found that more immigrants are choosing to settle in mid-size cities directly upon entering the country, while others are moving to these cities from gateways.

"Rising housing prices in traditional gateways in the early 2000s may have attracted many immigrants to mid-size metropolitan areas where housing is more affordable," the study said.

Mid-size cities with the highest increases in immigrants from 2000-05 include Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Fla. (6.99 percent increase to 14.3 percent of the total population); Stockton, Calif. (6.35 percent increase to 23.6 percent of the total population); Springfield-Holyoke-Chicopee, Mass. (2.22 percent increase to 9.6 percent of the population); Salem, Ore. (3.66 percent increase to 15 percent of the total population); and Fayetteville-Springdale, Ark. (3.29 percent increase to 9.2 percent of the total population).

The study also concluded that Asian and Latino immigrants in mid-size cities are less likely to own their own homes and more likely to live in overcrowded conditions than native-born, non-Hispanic whites with the same education and income levels. Unlike previous research in gateway cities, this gap persisted even after 10 years of residency in the country.

"This may be due to the fact that the immigrant communities are less settled in these areas, and that immigrants have higher expected mobility in the future," the study said.

Homeownership rates were higher in metro areas with the highest concentration of immigrants but the lowest concentration of new immigrants, which suggested that established immigrant support networks assisted them in the path to homeownership.

The study further examined homeownership rates among the two largest ethnic groups within the immigrant community as a whole: Mexican and Chinese. The study found that homeownership rates were higher in these groups in cities with a higher percentage of earlier established immigrants. …CONTINUED

Interestingly, higher concentrations of established Latino immigrants, regardless of nationality, buoyed Mexican homeownership rates, while higher concentrations of Asians who were not ethnic Chinese had no affect on Chinese homeownership rates.

"This suggests that language may be the more salient factor," the study said.

Researchers considered metropolitan areas in which more than 11.2 percent of the population — the nationwide average — was made up of areas with a "high concentration" of immigrants. Most of the metro areas, 46 out of 60, had lower concentrations of immigrants.

Because Sunbelt metro areas tend to have larger and more established immigrant communities, homeownership rates among immigrants in mid-size cities in those states — Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi — tended to be somewhat higher than in other states: 56.4 percent vs. 52.9 percent in the Rustbelt states.

The latter include metro areas in Michigan, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The rate is lowest, 49.8 percent, in mid-size cities outside of both belts.

The study also found that immigrants were more likely to live in overcrowded conditions. The study defined a residence as overcrowded if there was more than one person per room in that household.

While Asian immigrants are less likely to live in overcrowded conditions than Latino immigrants in gateway cities, they were just as likely to do so in mid-size cities.

"Part of (the overcrowding) is due to larger families, and part of this is due to multiple generations living in the same household," the study said.

However, since homeownership rates tended to be higher in cities where there were both greater concentrations of immigrants and higher rates of overcrowding, "overcrowding does not necessarily lead to lower homeownership for immigrants," the study said. Researchers suggest that, instead, immigrants may band together to purchase homes.

Painter suggested that cities hoping to attract this growing demographic and perhaps encourage declining home prices in their town to stabilize, should start developing networks of real estate agents and lenders who are eager to work with this group and have similar ethnic backgrounds.

"Nurturing links within the immigrant community is key to building a new rank of homeowners," he said.

Painter said further research is needed to gauge the impact of the housing downturn — which occurred after the time period examined in the study — has had on the immigrant population.


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