Most wanted: Casas to call our own

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By Anita Mabante Leach

You’ve perused those large, interior design books that are meant to be seen on the coffee table, the ones that explore the details of southwestern and Mexican styles. The rooms and landscapes are usually to die for. For those of us who struggle just to pick miniblinds and bookshelves, these books are sources of inspiration.

The three residences we have chosen to showcase this month also rouse the imagination. The owners are all at different stages in their lives:

• A single business owner who lives in a renovated urban building.

• A pair of empty nesters who has filled a home with great art.

• And a couple of go-getters who enjoy entertaining in their Tuscan-style residence.

These three residences also are representative of lifestyles our community has achieved, prime examples of the growing American Latino Dream. And each has chosen distinct ways to reflect culture on the walls of their homes, something that interior designer Victoria Sanchez acknowledges in Casa y Comunidad, Latino Home and Neighborhood Design.

The book, edited by Henry G. Cisneros and John Rosales, is comprised of chapters written by various Latino housing and interior design experts. It is a comprehensive guide to the consumer homeowner preferences of Latinos: where they live, their cultural and family values and most of all, the impact of a projected 2 million more American Latinos by 2010.

Media often cite the most recent Census Bureau figures about the rapid rise in Latino population. What’s missing is the piece that shows where and how the majority of Latinos – most of them third-, fourth- and fifth-generation – prefer to establish homes.

Casa y Communidad takes closer looks at regional areas in the U.S. where Latinos have chosen to live. Among regions that immediately come to mind are California, Texas, New York, Los Angeles-Long Beach, and Miami, Fla. But other areas are experiencing rapid growth in Latino population, cities like Boston, Providence, R.I., and Philadelphia in the Northeast; Dodge City, Kan., and Bridge City, Neb. in the Midwest; and Cheyenne, Wyo. and Salt Lake City in the Rocky Mountain West.

Studies back up Latinos’ search for ideal neighborhoods.

According to one 2004 study, Latino home buyers are looking for homes in areas where there is low crime rate (44 percent), good schools (39 percent), friendly neighbors (24 percent) and close proximity to work (22 percent).

Yet old-fashioned, stereotypes persist. The image of recently arrived immigrants living in the poorest areas of the country also has colored the perceptions of some in the homebuilding and mortgage industries, which in turn has hampered efforts of Latinos who would like to “buy up.”

For example, last year one energetic Hispanic magazine ad rep called on a homebuilder to consider placing an ad. She was told that Latinos weren’t their market, because “they keep their money in their mattresses.”

Mattresses aside, the sheer numbers of Latinos in the home-buying market will have an impact. In a foreword to Casa y Comunidad, housing expert Nicolas P. Retsinas writes that although Latinos represent less than 11 percent of all households, they accounted for 27 percent of new household growth from 1995 to 2005, showing that most of the growth in Latino population comes from births, not immigration.

Those children need bedrooms, fenced yards in which to play, schools to attend and neighborhoods that are safe and welcoming. With the continuing growth of the Latino population, the demand for affordable housing will not abate.

Fortunately, some homebuilders are already holding seminars and workshops to teach those in the industry about the Latino market. And since Latinos have quickly managed to make salsa the No. 1 condiment on the American table, we can be confident homebuilders and mortgage lenders soon will realize our preferences must be taken seriously.

To learn more about Casa y Comunidad, Latino Home and Neighborhood Design, visit www.nahb.or/latinohomes, or call (800) 223-2665.

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