Immigrants Boost Economic Vitality through the Housing Market

shutterstock_27161305Abundant research shows that immigration is a net benefit to the United States’ economy. It leads to higher wages, business formation, job creation, and greater innovation – nationally and locally. Foreign workers who immigrate to the U.S. help alleviate labor force gaps left by a workforce increasingly nearing and entering retirement age. Furthermore, immigrants help fulfill growing healthcare needs of an aging population. In addition to these positive benefits of immigration, the favorable effect immigrant home-buyers have on the housing market is another important economic impact. Indeed, new research from the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Partnership for a New American Economy describes how the 40 million immigrants residing in the United States added $3.7 trillion to housing wealth in the U.S. The research, prepared by Jacob Vigdor at Duke University, uses county-level data on population and housing from the U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey from 1970 to 2010. The results show that immigration led to a boost in home values, particularly in neighborhoods hit hardest by the U.S. housing bust.

Specifically, the report presents three broad findings related to immigrants and the housing market: Immigrants directly drive housing demand through their own purchasing power; immigrants indirectly generate demand by drawing native-born individuals to opportunities in growing areas; and immigrants shift demand for housing within metro areas toward neighborhoods that had fallen out of favor.

An interactive map (found here and here) provided by the two organizations illustrates the net change in a county’s immigrant population from 2000 to 2010 and the corresponding effect on median home value in that county. What the data and the map indicate is that immigrants, through their housing purchases and other economic activity, help stabilize housing values in communities that would have otherwise experienced declining home prices. Furthermore, by buying homes and moving into communities, immigrants also help revitalize neighborhoods that may otherwise have stagnated.

When we examine the county-level map, we see that, not surprisingly, the largest gains in housing wealth per homeowner from immigration since 2000 are in counties that are part of metropolitan areas. Indeed, metropolitan areas are the places that welcome the largest aggregate numbers of newcomers over time and also contain the greatest supply of available housing. In particular, we see large gains in counties within the large metropolitan urban areas of the Northeast, metro areas throughout the Mountain West, Pacific Northwest, and in the Sunbelt South – the Southeast, South Central, and Southwest areas of the U.S., places that have had some of the greatest growth in recent decades – including Arizona, California, Texas, central and south Florida, as well as other particular cities throughout the heartland.

The report examines some of these specific counties within those areas. Out of all counties in the U.S., Harris County (Houston, Texas) experienced the largest impact of immigration on the local housing market. Over the past 10 years, the influx of immigrants contributed over $25,000 to the typical home value. Many other Sunbelt counties have seen similar positive effects. In the Rustbelt, many communities have experienced native-born population decline in recent decades. The arrival of immigrants settling in those places has offset this decline, prevented additional native-born from departing, assuaged local housing market declines, and helped stabilize neighborhoods. In rural small towns throughout the country, immigrants have helped lessen, or in some cases reverse, population and economic declines, while maintaining or boosting property values. Furthermore, within many communities large and small throughout the country, immigrants play a role in revitalizing what many may have previously viewed as economically declining communities, or neighborhoods susceptible to urban/suburban decay.

Data such as these showing immigrants’ positive impact on housing markets throughout the United States is but another thread woven into the tapestry of our understanding about the many positives immigrants present to the country and to local communities. Communities that recognize such positive contributions and encourage a welcoming climate for all involved will be on a road to a brighter future.

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