If you can't rent legally <nobr>. . .</nobr> buy

A demonstrator outside the November 2006 meeting of the Farmers Branch, Texas, city council, which approved fines for landlords and businesses who do business with illegal immigrants.

CORRECTION
This story incorrectly reported that the Farmers Branch, Texas, ordinance barring illegal immigrants from renting apartments took effect on Friday, Jan. 12. In fact, a judge issued a temporary restraining order on Jan. 11 that kept the rental ban from going into effect on its scheduled date.

KAI RYSSDAL: Famers Branch, Texas, is a good way from the Mexican border. It's up north of Dallas. But it's got it's share of Mexican nationals living there. Some legally. Some not. And as of today undocumented residents are just a little less welcome. A city ordinance takes effect that bars illegal immigrants from renting apartments. Cities in New Jersey, Missouri and Pennsylvania have passed similar laws. Dozens more cities are said to be considering them. The results have been what you might expect. Undocumented workers moving to neighboring cities. Lots of apartments sitting vacant. But Joy Diaz reports some illegal immigrants are taking ownership of the problem.


JOY DIAZ: When Mauricio Rodriguez came to the U.S. 10 years ago, he knew he was risking a lot. He left his parents in his native Honduras to paint homes in the Dallas area. He has no papers to work in the country. Still, he's never been without work.

For years, Rodriguez and a few roommates rented an apartment. But nowadays, many places won't dare to rent him anything without a Social Security number. As of one month ago, that doesn't bother Rodriguez anymore.
MAURICIO RODRIGUEZ [translator]: I feel so blessed inside because now I own a home. Just knowing that this piece of land and these walls are mine is the best feeling. I'm very satisfied.

The buying process wasn't easy. But Daniel Marcos says one of the things that helped Rodriguez is that through the years he's been filing taxes. Marcos is President of UNIKA Mortgage, an Austin company that specializes in lending to immigrants. He helped Rodriguez with the paperwork.

DANIEL MARCOS: There are today several banks that they give mortgages to people without a Social Security. It's not illegal to give a mortgage to someone that is illegally in the country.

It's not illegal, but it's a hassle. And that's one of the reasons why most loan officers like David McMillan shy away from undocumented clients. McMillan has made his living for the last 20 years giving mortgage loans to Texans.

DAVID MCMILLAN: We deal with many banks and many investors and 99 percent of them will not do it. You know? It's very tough. Personally, if it's undocumented, I don't even worry about it. I mean, I don't even do it.

Some banks don't lend to new immigrants even if they're legally in the country, because they don't have a credit history. That happened to Daniel Marcos when he applied for a home loan three years ago. A year later he founded UNIKA. He knew there was a need for a company like his. But he never expected he'd have to open a second office in Dallas less than a year later.

The Farmers Branch ordinance has helped his business. Approving clients others rejected has helped even more. Marcos says one easy formula is to put up to four people in a mortgage.

MARCOS: In the Hispanic culture if you get out of your house before you get married, it's an offense to your parents. And usually you have always an aunt or someone that did not get married and they move with you. It's very common to do it in the Hispanic culture, in the Mexican culture. So, you could use that income and that credit to improve your mortgage or getting a stronger product.

Mauricio Rodriguez didn't want anyone else in his mortgage. After years living in crowded apartments he says he's learning to enjoy his newfound privacy. Although the buying process is convoluted and long, as word of mouth spreads more undocumented immigrants are likely to follow in Rodriguez's footsteps.

Estimates vary on the purchasing power of undocumented workers because of their underground status. But the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals estimates new mortgage loans from undocumented Hispanic immigrants total around $44 billion.

In Austin, I'm Joy Diaz for Marketplace.

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