Recently, there has been an influx of immigrants, especially Latino immigrants, in small communities in rural Minnesota. Morris, Minnesota in particular has become a “new gateway” for immigration. This can provide a unique set of challenges, since these Latino immigrants may become a town’s largest or only minority population, some in towns where most of the residents don’t know Spanish, or may never have even heard Spanish spoken before. One way that immigrants become integrated into local community life can be through homeownership. Homeownership may signal to their neighbors that they are invested in the community, but there are barriers to homeownership that rural immigrants experience. The following are the results of a report by UMM Professor Cristina Ortiz and UMM alum Natalie Hoidal, which includes information from a focus group conducted by Natalie Hoidal and interviews with a group of Latina mothers.
Minnesota has the largest homeownership gap in the country between white and minority residents. Less than half of Latino people in Minnesota own their own homes, a significantly smaller proportion than the average homeownership rates in Minnesota.
If housing is affordable, individuals should not have to pay more than 30% of their income for housing. A disproportionate number of Latino folks pay more than 30% of their income for housing, indicating that housing is not affordable for this population. And if housing is already unaffordable, then upgrading to homeownership is not a very feasible possibility.
The focus group showed that many Latino immigrants aren’t aware of housing availability in their area or how to find this information, and many also aren’t adequately informed of their rights as renters or homeowners, in some cases resulting in exploitation by landlords. This is due to a lack of Spanish language documents about housing, translation services, or Internet presence in general. Improvements to these things, or a community advocate or liaison to help mediate the renter-landlord relationships, would help resolve the information gap between immigrants and other residents in these communities.
Something that may make it more difficult for Latino immigrants to become involved in their communities is that the way they are used to building community may not work as well in the new environment. Many of the Latino immigrants who responded to a study stated that in their previous communities they would generally spend time with their neighbors outside or walk to each other’s houses. Due to differences in climate and distance between houses in rural Minnesota, this type of community-building does not work as well, leading to Latino immigrants saying they often feel isolated, especially during the colder months.
Homeownership may be important for immigrants in small communities especially because it signifies an investment in their community and therefore helps immigrants with acceptance and belonging in these communities. However, we can’t ignore that some barriers to homeownership exist for this population that make it difficult to make this type of investment. Efforts to increase awareness about US homeownership processes and the availability of Spanish-language resources about homeownership can make it a more viable path to community integration for some immigrants in rural communities.