MANASSAS PARK, Va. -- Homeownership among Hispanics surged during the economic boom of the 1990s, according to census figures that also show differences in living patterns among Latino groups.
For example, 2000 census data to be released Wednesday show that Cubans are more likely than Mexicans to own their own homes, while Puerto Ricans are much more likely to rent rather than buy.
More flexible lending practices and the good economy helped boost the homeownership rate for Hispanics overall to a new high, though it still lags far behind the national average for all people.
The Hispanic rate grew from 42 percent in 1990 to 46 percent. Overall, 66 percent of all American homes were owned in 2000, up from 64 percent a decade earlier.
"There's no question there's a substantial increase in homeownership, but a very small base," said Roberto Suro, director of the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center research group.
"When I came to this country, Hispanic people didn't have the opportunity," said Jose Pineda, who immigrated from El Salvador in 1981. Pineda now co-owns a restaurant in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood in Manassas Park, a middle-class Virginia suburb of Washington, and owns a town home in a development in nearby Sterling.
"That changed. Hispanics became a bigger population," Pineda said. "There is opportunity now."
"It's a classic example of the glass half-full and half-empty," Suro said.
By comparison, 46 percent of black-headed homes in 2000 were owned, along with 53 percent of Asian homes and 72 percent of white homes.
"Hispanic" is considered an ethnicity, not a race. People of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race.
Owning a home is more prevalent in some Hispanic groups than others. Much of that is due to where these different groups settle.
Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans are the three largest Hispanic groups in the United States. The majority of Cubans live in Florida, where housing prices and the cost of living are lower than in New York, which has a large Puerto Rican population.
Cubans, as a group, tend to be older, better educated and better paid -- characteristics that lend themselves to homeownership.
Cubans also tend to have been in the United States longer, giving them more time to build up enough wealth to buy a home. Much of the most recent Hispanic immigrant wave came from Mexico and central America.
Those effects play out in the statistics: Of the three largest Hispanic groups in the United States, 58 percent of Cuban-headed homes nationwide were owned, compared with 48 percent of Mexicans and 35 percent of Puerto Ricans.
In 1990, 51 percent of Cuban-headed homes were owned, compared with 47 percent of Mexicans and 26 percent of Puerto Ricans.
Erika Hizel is director of housing programs for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. She said Mexican and Latin American families in the United States tend to have little access to credit, in large part because of their poorer financial background.
Meanwhile, some Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean groups tend to be overextend themselves on credit, possibly because they are more assimilated to American culture, she said.
Geographically, the largest gains in Hispanic homeownership were in immigrant gateway states with large Mexican populations like California, New Mexico and Texas, said Patrick Simmons, a demographer with the nonprofit Fannie Mae Foundation.
While predatory lending remains a big concern, Hizel said more flexible mortgage lending practices were developed in the past decade.
"Yet the primary barrier is not necessarily income and prices," said Hizel, based in San Antonio, Texas. "The primary barrier is a lack of consumer-oriented help."
For more recent immigrants, making financial ends meet is the more immediate goal.
"I rent, I don't own," said an aproned Edgar Cruz as he stood behind the counter at the Hispanic-owned bakery where he works in Manassas. Cruz immigrated from Mexico three years ago.
"I came from Mexico for a job," he said.
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