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November 7, 2006 > Realtors project housing boom if alternate credit scores adopted

Realtors project housing boom if alternate credit scores adopted

by Garance Burke

FRESNO, Calif. (AP), Nov 03 _ The slumping housing market could get a $200 billion boost from new immigrant home buyers if mainstream lenders start using alternative methods to score credit, a national group of Hispanic realtors said Friday.

Creditors like Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank see recent immigrants as a growing market niche, but those who lack Social Security numbers or legal status in the U.S. are often rejected by the three major credit bureaus.

A handful of new credit reporting systems already used by 200 real estate brokers, community groups and mortgage counselors nationwide allows them to calculate risk by evaluating a prospective client's utility bills and rent checks.

Should the new reporting methods gain wider acceptance on Wall Street and among secondary mortgage lenders like Fannie Mae, housing markets in places like California's Central Valley would stand to gain the most, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals said, ``Gateway states like California and Texas will disproportionately benefit from the housing boom because so many of their residents are immigrants,'' said Gary Acosta, the association's co-founder, speaking from the group's annual convention in Las Vegas. ``Boosting homeownership among these populations is a positive contribution to the overall fabric of our society and our economy.''

A study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University shows Latinos will account for nearly one-third of the home-buying pool by 2010. That same year, the disposable income of Hispanics will exceed $1.08 trillion, or 9.2 percent of total purchasing power nationwide, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

No law requires that buyers be in the country legally in order to purchase real estate, Acosta said. Citibank, for instance, doesn't require that borrowers be citizens or legal residents of the United States, Citigroup spokeswoman Janis Tarter said.

As with many other minority and immigrant communities, bringing Hispanic families into the mortgage market is a continuing challenge, say officials at Federal Reserve Banks across the country.

Community groups from California to Atlanta have begun offering financial education classes in Spanish as the number of mortgage products available to immigrants and underserved populations has grown.

In Fresno, the housing advocate ACORN Housing Corp. helps clients secure loans by writing alternative credit profiles, which often draw on of months of data from telephone bills and employment records, said Lydia Lopez, the group's local manager. Once ACORN vets the client's financial stability, they send them to Citibank, which finances the home loans.

Automating that process by using programs like First American Corp.'s Anthem service, which generates a credit score using the nontraditional data, will help new immigrant clients win prime-grade financing and acceptance in the secondary market, said Acosta.

 
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