Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

By MNR News posted 10-01-2021 06:59

  

celebrating Hispanic Heritage MonthFrom the time Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon set foot on the land he named “La Florida” in 1513, Hispanic people have had an enormous presence in what eventually became the United States. Starting in September, we celebrate and honor the history and contributions of Hispanic and Latino communities with National Hispanic Heritage Month. As of 2019, there were more than 60-million Latinos living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

Despite their enormous contributions in the arts, sciences, politics, and every avenue of American life, Hispanics still struggle to be acknowledged as “true Americans.” This impacts every aspect of their lives, including their aspirations to become homeowners. MNR spoke with three Hispanic Realtors® to hear their stories and understand how they are helping their communities obtain homeownership.

 

Bridging the Homeownership Gap for Latinos in Minnesota

For some insights on the homeownership gap for Latinos in Minnesota, we spoke with Guille Garza, a Realtor® and past president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP).

When Garza earned her real estate license in 2012, she wanted a flexible career that let her spend more time with the two people who needed her most—her young daughters. But once on the job, she discovered another community with even greater and more complex needs—the growing Latino population of the Twin Cities.

Comprising 5% of Minnesota’s population, the homeownership rate for Hispanic people is 46%, which compares to about 77% for white families. The gap became an immediate area of focus for Garza and has remained so throughout her career.

photo of Guille Garza
“There were a lot of people who wanted homes, but didn’t think they could have one,” said Garza, who emigrated to Minnesota from Coahuila, Mexico after marrying a Latino American from Texas in 2001. With a degree in computer science and engineering, and a decade maintaining the IT systems of Hispanic charter schools in Minneapolis, she put her analytical and problem-solving skills to work for her clients.

“The biggest barrier was language. They needed someone who could explain — in Spanish — what the forms mean and how the entire process works,” said Garza. “Then we needed to help them understand the kind of resources available to them through FHA loans and downpayment assistance.”

Another roadblock Latino homebuyers encounter is cultural. Non-Latino sellers and their agents are often perplexed and sometimes aggravated by the Latino practice of making house hunting an extended-family affair.

“In Mexico and other Latin American countries, we’re very family oriented,” Garza explained. “As soon as you start looking for a home, it’s not only the person who’s qualified for the loan. They bring their mom, or their uncles, grandma, the nieces—whoever is closer to your family or lives with you. Everybody shows up. It’s a shock for American people.”

During the pandemic, this made house hunting especially complicated. Because of restrictions on the number of people who could attend a showing, Garza often had to schedule multiple showings to accommodate all members of the family. And as the housing market heated up, these extended periods of deliberation made it difficult to compete with buyers who were ready to make a cash offer after a single showing.

“In this market, we have a disadvantage. Because we are using assistance, we need to cover the money,” said Garza. “The Latino community is made of working-class people. They have savings, but in a competitive market they run the risk of overextending themselves. They’re approved for $300,000 and want to spend it all on the house. But they can’t do that. They need space to negotiate. It can be frustrating to not use the full amount. They say, ‘nobody told me this.’ That’s why I sit with them before we start looking and explain how it works. That way they don’t have false expectations of the market.”

Even when her Latino clients have excellent credit, ample income, and qualify for FHA loans, they often face an uphill battle getting to the closing table.

“Both sellers and their listing agents make assumptions about Latino people,” said Garza. “They think they don’t have jobs, and ask all kinds of questions they wouldn’t ask about most other clients, like ‘do they really want the house?’ And ‘are you sure they qualify?’ We must work harder to help our people get a home because we have fewer opportunities. We have to show that we’re capable of owning a home.” When they finally get past the bigotry, Garza says, they encounter sellers who don’t want to accept FHA loans, inaccurately seeing them as more complicated and time consuming.

Another major barrier is that many Latino homebuyers can’t qualify for the lower tax rates obtained through Homestead tax status. That’s because the IRS assigns foreign residents Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) instead of the required Social Security numbers. The higher property taxes on ITIN holders have put homeownership out of reach for more than a few of Garza’s clients. During her two-year tenure as president of Minnesota NAHREP, Garza fought to persuade the Minnesota legislature to change the law so ITIN holders can obtain Homestead status.

“We haven’t won yet, but we’re getting closer,” said Garza. She said the NAHREP continues to press the legislature on this issue and sees it as one of the keys to advancing homeownership for Latinos in Minnesota.

A life-long learner, Garza believes the key to overcoming these and other obstacles is to continually educate her clients, other Realtors®, and sellers. To keep up with current trends, she recently completed At Home with Diversity training, obtained her GRI in May, and finished C2EX training. “I want to be knowledgeable and prepared because as Latinos we have to prove more to the other side of the transaction. It’s not fair, but it is what it is,” Garza said. Still, she remains hopeful as she watches a new generation of Latino Americans come of age.

“Now we have a second generation in the Latino community and that’s awesome. They speak English and Spanish and are at home in both worlds. I would like to see more of these young people become Realtors®—not just to make money, but to help our community. Caring gives you back. That’s my faith. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

 

Embracing the Opportunity to Succeed

Realtor® Artemisa Boston has built a brilliant career by helping Hispanic Minnesotans achieve homeownership

Every year, thousands of immigrants arrive in the United States from Central and South America. Drawn by the promise of a better life, they leave everything they know in pursuit of new opportunities. But starting over in a foreign land can be overwhelming. Originally from Mexico City, Artemisa Boston understands what it’s like to adapt to a new language and culture while trying to make a living. That’s why as a Realtor®, she goes the extra mile to help her largely Latino clientele achieve homeownership.

photo of Artemisa Boston with clients“They need more help than typical American clients,” said Boston. “I teach them about building credit, and how to be ready to apply for a loan. I translate for them and look for all the resources they need to buy a house.” She adds that coming from Mexico, she knows how hard life can be in Latin America and looks at the real estate profession as a way to help people obtain the good life they always dreamed about.

Given her track record, she has made many dreams come true. In 2018, the Star Tribune ranked her 93rd in a listing of national real estate sales leaders, and number one among Hispanic Realtors. Boston believes that her innate drive to succeed was catalyzed by a childhood and youth where money was always tight.

“Where I am from there are more people and fewer opportunities. Most people work just to have the necessities. Not a lot of people can save money or buy extra things,” Boston said. Yet despite the lack of material wealth, she was part of a vibrant community in Mexico City where people looked out for one another and were generous with the little they had.

“If you arrived at someone’s home at dinner time, they’d invite you in and add another plate at the table. So many wonderful memories,” Boston said, recalling open-air markets filled with the sweet scent of fruit, and taco stands where street vendors roasted succulent pork on giant spits. And pleasant evenings on the patio with family, chatting with friends when they strolled by.

Aspiring to a high-profile career in Mexico or abroad, Boston worked hard, got good grades, and studied International Relations in college. But her life took an unexpected turn when she met a young man from Wisconsin.

“We married before I finished school,” Boston said. “And then we moved to the United States in 1999.” Settling in Utah initially, they relocated to Minnesota when her husband got a scholarship to William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. Although she found work as a manager in a law office, Artemisa wanted a career that was flexible enough to accommodate the demands of caring for two young children.

“I was always good at selling things, so real estate fit my life perfectly,” Boston said.

Bringing her strong sense of community and need to help others to her new career, Boston found a new calling in life. Apart from her tireless work on behalf of clients, she served as a member of the Ethics Standards Committee of the Association of Realtors® for several years. Reflecting on her life in the United States, and her Mexican roots, Boston finds strength and identity in the fusion of two cultures.

“I don’t really see it as an America versus Mexico situation,” Boston said. “It’s about America plus Mexico. I want my two kids to be proud Americans and Mexicans, and fully be a part of these two great cultures. This is the country of opportunities and dreams; and we need to respect it and make it better by trying our best every day. If you work hard, you can achieve anything in this country.”

 

Finding a Home for Generations

Realtor® Estefania Borns is dedicated to helping Hispanic immigrants build better lives through home ownership

It’s a long way from Cochabamba, Bolivia’s gastronomic capital and “city of eternal spring” to Minnesota, a place once dubbed “the American Siberia.” Growing up in a temperate valley rimmed by the Andes mountains on one side and rain forest on the other, the United States was a place that Estefania Borns knew only in movies, and never imagined she would live.

All that changed when she traveled to the U.S. as an exchange student in 2005. While earning her degree in Scientific and Technical Communications at Michigan Tech, she met her future husband, a native of Minnesota. After graduating, she followed him to the Twin Cities, where they purchased a home in Chanhassen, and started a family.

Although she had realized her own piece of the American Dream, something was missing.

Estefania Borns with her family“From the time I was a little girl, I enjoyed helping people,” Borns said. Yet none of the desk jobs she’d held came close to fulfilling that need. She felt isolated and cut off. “I needed more interaction with others. My husband kept telling me I would be great at real estate, but I was nervous about not getting a secure paycheck. But after a while I was so frustrated at not being able to do more with others that I made the jump and found my calling.”

Two and a half years later, Borns is thriving as a Realtor®. She has made it her mission to educate clients and help them navigate the complexities of buying or selling a home. As a South American immigrant, she has special empathy for Hispanic clients who are buying their first homes.

“After experiencing the process of purchasing my own house about seven years ago, I began to understand the importance of culture in finding the right home. And that has deepened as I helped my own Hispanic clients,” said Borns, who also serves as director of Governmental Affairs for National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP). “For example, many Hispanic buyers need a space that can accommodate parents and perhaps grandparents, as well as children.”

They also need to learn the ropes of maintaining a home in the winter. Because most of them come from countries where it never snows and homes don’t have furnaces, Borns educates them about changing furnace filters, and clearing snow away from the foundation so the basement doesn’t flood. And using her well-honed bi-lingual skills, she explains complex real estate contracts and processes in Spanish.

In the 15 years since Borns arrived in Minnesota, the state’s Hispanic population has rapidly expanded.

“There’s been a huge rise in the rate of homeownership for Minnesota’s Latino community. They’re becoming a big presence in the state’s economy, and the nation as a whole,” Borns said. “Until the past decade many Latino families thought homeownership was beyond their means. They believed their only option was to rent. As more of them get their green cards and social security numbers, homeownership becomes more obtainable. There are a lot of programs like Minnesota Housing that can help these families with downpayment assistance. So now they’re ready to finally reach that goal of owning their own home.” She added that as new generation of U.S. born and educated Hispanic Americans comes of age, they are having a big impact.

“They’ve been to college and have professional jobs. They have the earning power and are ready to buy homes and move their families and community forward. That’s why homeownership is so much more than a roof over your head. It creates a sense of security, wealth and equity for generations to come,” Borns said.

The promise of the United States, Borns observes, is that you can come from anywhere in the world and make a home here. It’s not always easy, but the opportunities are there, she said.

“I take pride knowing my own family comes from many places in the world. From the Middle East, Italy, Chile, Bolivia and now America. I married an American, and am raising American children, so I consider myself a melting pot of cultures,” Borns said. “I fell in love with this country for its endless diversity, and the joy of interacting, learning, and accepting different beliefs. Because of immigration, we can taste the magical flavors of so many cuisines. Because of immigration, it’s possible for brave men and women to come here, leaving everything they know and love for the chance of a better life.”

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