A home of their own
RIFLE – On a late afternoon at a comfortable home in northern Rifle, the setting sun is about to put on a show for visitors. “I like my view. I like my back yard,” the home’s owner says to visitors as she guides them to the kitchen, which opens to a back deck leading to a unique outcrop of boulders on a hill.It’s a perfect place to enjoy the evening light over the Roan Plateau. It will be better yet when craftsman Refugio Ulloa finishes working on the place.Back in the kitchen, he pulls out plans for a rock fence that will line the home’s half acre of property. First, he has to finish the stone shower he’s putting in downstairs.As a foreman for Gallegos Corp., Ulloa has done similar jobs for homes in places such as Aspen. But he takes a special pride in this Rifle project. This time, the home he is working on belongs to him and his wife, Patricia.The Ulloas are natives of Mexico, but they are living the American dream. In 1999 they tired of the high rents in Carbondale, and bought their first property, a Rifle townhome. They bought their new home a year ago.Many Latinos share the Ulloas’ desire to own their own home. The obstacles can be many, from not understanding the need for a good credit history to not having a Social Security number in order to obtain a mortgage.That latter obstacle is a major one for anyone living in the United States without proper legal papers, and thus, no Social Security number.Susie Meraz, a loan officer with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Glenwood Springs, said she’d be “very busy” if she were allowed to lend to would-be borrowers who have no Social Security number.”I run into them sometimes five times a week,” she said.Ownership attitudeFor many area Latinos, getting that number requires getting a green card, or resident alien card. Until they can do that, they’re very likely consigned to rent.Miguel Chavez, of Carbondale, came to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago. Despite a lot of money spent on lawyers, he has to get the green card that would give him a green light to buy a home.An Aspen chef, he bought a mobile home but later sold it because he still had to pay a lot rent of $450 a month. And he once had neared the end of the process of buying a home when his lack of a Social Security number caught up with him.”They asked for a copy of my resident card, and I said I don’t have it,” he said.He wants a bigger home for a family that includes a wife and three children, he said.
“And I don’t want to pay rent all my life,” he said.Lori Kass, a bilingual real estate agent at Mason & Morse Real Estate in Glenwood Springs, finds it unfair that many Latinos are denied the opportunity to borrow money for a home.”There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be treated like anyone else,” she said.Joan Baldwin, co-owner of Rio Vista Services, a Glenwood Springs business that provides tax and translation assistance to Latinos, believes it would benefit not only Latinos but the communities they live in if home ownership were opened up to more of them.”Once you buy a home your whole attitude changes about a community. It’s a healthier community,” she said.Both sides seek reformMike McGarry, an Aspen resident and Western Slope coordinator for the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, thinks allowing undocumented immigrants to borrow money to buy homes is just one more way to make it easier for them to live here illegally.He is angered by media reports indicating that some banks are using federal taxpayer identification numbers and documentation other than social security numbers to issue loans, he said.In Denver, real estate prices are being driven up by illegal immigrants willing to pay more to buy, McGarry said, and lenders willing to help them “dummy up” paperwork so they can get loans. He sees it as a case of banks “greedy to get the money.”Local professionals involved in the homebuying process don’t deny that they see a big Latino market to be served, and one that could be even bigger if the Social Security number restriction were removed.”It has a great potential and I’m really excited to work with these people,” Kass said.But those professionals say that for now, anyway, the Social Security number is key to Latinos or anyone getting a home loan.”All mortgage companies are going to ask for that,” said Meraz, of Wells Fargo.Equal treatment? Norbert Montano, an equal opportunity specialist with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in Denver, hopes such policies are applied equally to all immigrants, and not just to Latinos, he said. When he hears complaints coming mainly from Latinos about being turned down for home loans due to lack of a Social Security number, it makes him wonder, he said.
But he believes most lenders want to be able to serve the emerging Latino market as much as possible.The Federal Housing Administration, the world’s largest mortgage insurer, requires a Social Security number for to insure mortgages issued to resident aliens.Nothing prohibits an undocumented immigrant from buying property if they can come up with the cash. But when a loan is needed, lenders use the Social Security number as a means of pulling up a credit history, Meraz said.It’s not unusual for Latinos who are eligible to borrow for a home to lack the credit history needed. That’s where people such as Meraz and Baldwin step in – working in conjunction with the Carbondale-based Mountain Regional Housing Corp., which serves an area from Aspen to Parachute.The nonprofit organization offers homebuying education classes in English and in Spanish in alternating months. Professionals volunteer to help Latinos understand the homebuying process – including the need to build their credit. For any first-time homebuyer, the process is complicated.”If you’re new to the culture it’s even more difficult,” said Susan M. Shirley, executive director of the organization.Many people coming from Mexico face an even bigger challenge because they’re not used to borrowing money or even saving it in banks. They aren’t as trusting of financial institutions and come from a place where many people buy land with cash, build on it and expand it over time.”Sometimes that affects them negatively when they want to get a home because there’s no payment history,” Meraz said.’Everybody’s dream’Often, Latinos here are making good money and have saved up plenty for a down payment, but just haven’t gone about establishing credit.Wells Fargo sometimes can look at things such as rent and utility payments as an alternative credit record. Meraz said Wells Fargo targets Latinos as part of an emerging markets program aimed at minorities, first-time homebuyers and lower-income families. Baldwin said it’s usually pretty simple to have people get a credit card and work on things such as paying bills on time to improve their lendability.”We really need to educate our buyers and borrowers,” said Gina Pedrick, a loan officer with Liberty Home Loans in Glenwood Springs, which is targeting Latinos through its Vecino (neighbor) program. “They may not be able to buy a house tomorrow.”But it may be a matter of only months before they can build enough credit to get a loan, she said.Of course, with credit cards can come credit card debt. Just ask Alejandra Sandoval, originally from Mexico but now a U.S. citizen living in Glenwood Springs. When she and her husband, Alonzo, first went looking to buy a home, they learned they needed to reduce their debt in order to qualify for a loan.
“We just spent too much, probably,” she said with a sheepish laugh – sounding like many an American does when talking about credit card debt.Sandoval told the story of a typical western Colorado resident, Latino or Anglo, when she talked about trying to buy a home. When she and her husband went looking, their search soon took them west where prices were cheaper. This year, they ended up finding a home in Silt. It’s near a park where their two children will have more room to play.”It’s most everybody’s dream to someday own a house,” Sandoval said.’You can make noise’Latinos able to overcome the extra obstacles to home ownership start to sound in many ways like their Anglo counterparts in talking about their investments.”It was worth it,” Patricia Ulloa said of her and her husband’s decision to buy rather than rent. “I don’t know why we didn’t do it before.”Then she thought of some reasons – reasons that are typical for many first-time buyers. These include fear of a high mortgage and of the paperwork involved in the purchase.But professionals helped the Ulloas through the process and their initial purchase of a Rifle townhome produced a far-cheaper monthly payment than did their Carbondale rent. And now they’ve even become landlords, renting out that townhome that they left for bigger quarters last year.Their latest move has pleased everyone in the family. Patricia beams about her home, while Refugio makes landscaping plans without having to worry about the rules that often govern townhome living. And a home beats a townhome in the minds of their daughters Jamie, 14, and Andrea, 9.”It’s just bigger and you don’t have to live wall-to-wall with other people,” Jamie said.Said Andrea, “I think it’s better because there’s no more noise next door.””Or you can make noise,” her mother teased her.Vail, Colorado