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Immigrants are drawn to mid-size metro areas

Better job prospects and cheaper housing are the primary attractions, but the new arrivals are less likely to buy homes than in the largest U.S. cities, a study finds.

March 15, 2010|By Alejandro Lazo

Recently arrived immigrants flocked to smaller metropolitan areas during the first half of the last decade, lured by less competition for jobs and cheaper housing, but they were not as likely to buy homes in such places, according to a study expected to be released Monday.

The population of immigrants living in the U.S. for a decade or less jumped 27% in cities such as Nashville, El Paso, Bakersfield and Stockton during the first five years of the century, the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate reported. More traditional "gateway" metro areas such as Los Angeles and New York registered a 6% decline in the number of these newcomers over that same period.

"There has been tremendous growth in the population of immigrants in these smaller metropolitan areas," said Gary Painter, director of research at the center and co-author of the study. "A lot of immigrants weren't even going to the gateways first."

But "the networks are certainly much newer in these smaller metro areas."

The results of the study, which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, found that immigrants didn't adapt as well to housing markets in mid-size areas. They were less likely than native-born Americans with similar incomes to buy a home than those immigrants in more established metro areas such as Los Angeles and New York.

The study also found that Asian immigrants have slightly lower homeownership rates than Latino immigrants in mid-size metro areas, which contrasts with larger, gateway cities, where more Asians than Latinos tend to own homes.

Both immigrant groups, however, tend to live in overcrowded conditions in smaller metro areas, the study found.

The amount of time spent in the U.S. also didn't help immigrants in mid-size areas to catch up to the homeownership rate of native-born Americans with similar incomes. In more traditional gateway cities, however, the longer immigrants stay in the country the more likely they are to own.

The study looked at 60 metro areas that weren't among the top 20 cities in the U.S. in terms of population. Each area was characterized as having a relatively high initial immigrant population or a low initial population.

The research didn't study the effects of the subprime mortgage meltdown and recession on the immigrant population in these areas. Painter said he hopes to study that in the future.


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