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Immigration And Housing: The Documented Link

Friday, 5 Oct 2007 | 12:45 PM ET

There’s an interesting article in the Washington Post today about immigration and housing being linked. This is not the first time I’ve discussed this, but generally we talk about it in terms of rising demand for housing. This article discusses how in Prince William County, VA, home prices and a rising Hispanic population went hand in hand. The home building “frenzy” attracted many immigrant laborers, legal and illegal, who ended up living in the county where they worked. Now that’s all changing.

As builders put projects on hold, laborers are finding themselves out of work and unable to make their mortgage payments, not to mention that fewer are now coming into the area because there are fewer jobs to be had. Not surprisingly, Prince William County now has some of the highest foreclosure rates in the region. What’s strange is that in August, the region had the lowest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in the country. The trouble is, that of course doesn’t measure the illegal population.

Prince William County also recently instituted new and “ambitious” policies to crack down on illegal immigrants. So it begs the question: if illegal immigrants are driving the housing market, then does driving them out make sense when the market is in such turmoil? Not all of these immigrants are in the home building sector, so many may be able to make their house payments just fine, unless of course they lose their jobs or their ability to be here.

I know the immigration debate is, arguably, a testy one, but in the context of the housing slowdown, it’s certainly an added dimension that should be considered. Some politicians have brought up housing and home building in arguments involving illegal immigration, but only now are we really beginning to see the coinciding numbers. As illegal immigrants leave the county, they are leaving empty foreclosed properties behind. Nearly 20% of the county’s population is Hispanic, and an estimated 7-8% are illegal, so the danger of further damage to the housing market is real.

I’m torn on this one. I’m no fan of illegal immigration. I just wonder, which is the lesser of two evils? The illegal immigrants living in our neighborhoods, or the empty neighborhoods they leave behind when they’re forced out?

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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