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American Dream (Home) Fading for Some NY Colombians

PHOTO: A Queens real estate agency advertising property for sale in Colombia. Colombian immigrants in New York and other states are finding their dream of owning a home is out of reach after 20 or 30 years of working in America, and are heading back to retire in Latin America. Photo courtesy Feet in 2 Worlds.
PHOTO: A Queens real estate agency advertising property for sale in Colombia. Colombian immigrants in New York and other states are finding their dream of owning a home is out of reach after 20 or 30 years of working in America, and are heading back to retire in Latin America. Photo courtesy Feet in 2 Worlds.
May 1, 2014

NEW YORK – Some long-held notions about immigrants in the U.S. are being turned on their head, as more Colombian immigrants in New York and other states, unable to afford buying homes post-recession, are heading back home to retire.

According to a report by the immigrant advocacy group Feet in Two Worlds, after they have been working in the United States for 20 or 30 years and dreaming of owning a house, high real estate prices and 30-year mortgage commitments have dashed the dreams of many Colombian immigrants.

Real estate agent Federico Mejía is eager to sell them property back home.

"Basically anybody who really wants to invest in Colombia can make that dream come true through us," he says.

The report says mortgages are shorter and easier to pay in Colombia.

The exchange rate between the dollar and the Colombian peso doubles immigrants’ purchasing power. And the average cost of a house in the U.S. is around $300,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Colombia it's around $80,000.

Nancy Foner, a sociology professor at Hunter College who studies immigration, says individuals who leave their country for political reasons – seeking asylum – tend to stay, and those who come for economic reasons often go back.

She cites the wave of Italians in the late 1800s.

"Their idea was that they would work for a while, and they would save money to buy land, buy homes back home, and many of them did, many of them left," she relates.

Colombians are not the only ones who are packing their bags, according to Feet in Two Worlds. Realtors have started to offer financing plans to immigrants from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and El Salvador.

Scholars watching this trend say it's still not big enough to create a housing boom in Latin America. But people faced with financial challenges in the U.S. are being pulled back home.

See the full story here, and an infographic on immigrant home ownership, in New York and nationally, here.

This story was produced with data and editorial assistance from Feet in 2 Worlds, and made possible in part by a grant from the Voqal Fund.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY