Expanding Latino home ownership in Central Florida | Commentary – Orlando Sentinel

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Despite the many setbacks of Florida’s housing market in the last two decades, our state has an untapped opportunity to course correct: investing in the Latino community.

The Latino community has been and will continue to be a bedrock of Florida’s economy. In 2018, Florida’s Latino GDP landed at around $259 billion — more than the entire economic output of the state of Louisiana. Between 2010 and 2020, Florida’s Latino population accounted for over half (53.8%) of the state’s total population growth.

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Despite this impact and growth, the number of Latino homeowners only increased by 11.2% in that same time period. This can be largely attributed to biased public policies and unfair housing practices like predatory lending, language and financial literacy barriers, and high debt-to-income ratios.

Without upstream investments to remove these barriers, Florida risks a critical pillar of its population losing out on a key tool for generation wealth building — homeownership. Just how critical is this tool? In the United States, Latino homeowners have 28 times the wealth of their renting counterparts. Aside from boosting net worth, homeownership increases access to education, gainful employment, and health services — all foundational elements for thriving communities.

The broader consequences for our economy are significant, too. The state would subsequently risk losing a growing cohort of real estate customers.

While purchasing a home has become increasingly difficult for everyone in recent years, Latinos face significantly more barriers. Our community has long grappled with systemic exclusion from American financial systems. At baseline this is a painful fact, but the feeling is even more acute when considering the community’s contributions. According to the latest data, if the U.S. Latino community were an independent country, its GDP would rank as the world’s fifth-largest — coming in higher than India, France, or the United Kingdom.

Despite Latinos’ outsized economic influence, over time institutional inequalities have only widened America’s racial wealth gap. Latino households have only one-fifth the wealth of white households.

But data suggests there is a different story ahead. The Urban Institute predicts that 70% of net new homeowners between 2020 and 2040 will be Latino. While promising, the figure underscores the risks associated with housing underproduction — especially for first-time buyers — if strategic interventions aren’t made.

Leaders like UnidosUS, America’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, are working to close the opportunity gaps. In June, UnidosUS launched the HOME (Home Ownership Means Equity) initiative that aims to create four million new Latino homeowners by 2030. To accomplish this goal, UnidosUS is partnering with community organizations to make targeted investments in areas where Latino populations are high and market conditions are favorable — making Central Florida an ideal candidate.

Last month, HOME launched its initiative in Orlando, one of five initial markets for investment to fund upstream solutions in partnership with local organizations, because the road to achieving an ambitious national goal goes through opportunities in the Sunshine State.

While Florida is ripe for opportunity, and changemakers are mobilizing accordingly, it is critical that policymakers, financial sector leaders, and real estate developers get on board. To succeed, our education systems require overhauls on financial literacy, planning, and investing curriculum. We must prioritize affordable housing production on underutilized land. Tax breaks for luxury apartments do not have the same return-on-investment as incentives for starter family homes. Potential Latino homeowners also need access to information and tools to help identify feasible housing options, avoid predatory lending, and overcome other homebuying obstacles.

Latino homeownership is an overlooked pathway to success for Florida’s economy. A thriving, growing Latino population will be critical in facing our 21st century challenges. To overcome them, we need buy-in from leaders in every corner of our state and on Capitol Hill. Without it, we undermine our state’s economic vitality and jeopardizing the future of one of the largest economic forces in the world.

Sylvia Alvarez is the executive director at Housing and Education Alliance, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing counseling agency serving Tampa Bay residents. Marucci Guzmán is the executive director of Latino Leadership, Central Florida’s most prominent Latino nonprofit community-based organization.

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