Clovis News

Southeast Asians buy up most of Habitat homes

Habitat for Humanity sends out notices and hangs up posters throughout the community to attract families to apply for new affordable houses -- but lately, Southeast Asian families seem to be about the only ones answering the call.

In the latest round of applications for a new Habitat development in southeast Fresno, 45 were submitted by Southeast Asian families -- mostly Hmong. Only three came from Hispanic families.

"We have had a lot of successful applicants come from the Southeast Asian community, and we are not sure what all of the reasons are for that," said Tony Miranda, Habitat's executive director.

Habitat employees and housing experts who study minority housing trends say it could be a cultural thing. Southeast Asians do a good job of spreading the word about successful housing opportunities.

They live in extended families for years, enabling them to save up money to pay for a house. And they seem to have better credit than other minority groups.

Southeast Asian families own about 55% of the Habitat houses built in Fresno County, followed by Hispanics, who make up 26% of the homeowners.

It's not clear whether the trend is special to the Valley, but it surprises some, since there is a growing need for affordable housing throughout the community.

The latest Habitat development at Clara and North avenues in southwest Fresno is entirely Hmong.

Signs identifying the owners of each house list a slew of Hmong surnames, including Lee, Xiong, Yang, Thao and others.

The houses at the older Crossroads subdivision a few miles up the road on Jensen and Fruit avenue are home to a mix of Hmong and Hispanic families.

Habitat's Fresno affiliate has built 73 houses in Fresno and Clovis since its inception in 1985.

Forty of those homes have gone to Southeast Asian families -- 23 to Hmong. Hispanic families own 19 houses, while blacks own eight and whites own the remaining six.

Families must apply and go through a screening process before they can buy a Habitat house through an interest-free, 30-year mortgage loan with no down payment.

The only requirement, once a family qualifies for the loan, is to provide at least 500 hours of their time to help build the house.

"The process is objective, and families who are meeting the qualifications are the families who get through," Miranda said. "It just so happens a number of them have been Southeast Asian families."

It's not for a lack of marketing among all ethnic and racial groups, said Joan Cook, Habitat family services and volunteer coordinator. Habitat advertises on television and radio, mails letters, and sends speakers to churches and organizations.

The Hmong have stepped up to the plate because they want to be homeowners, Cook said. They also seem to have higher credit scores than other minority groups, she said.

Southeast Asian culture may give an advantage, said Gary Painter, director of research at the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California.

For example, multigeneration households provide stability that helps people save money, Painter said.

One of the things Southeast Asian families do best is spread the word about topics of interest through the community.

"Networks are important among immigrant groups, so it looks like it's playing a role there," Painter said.

Habitat asks each family who applies where they heard about the program. Most Southeast Asians say they heard about it from a family member or friend who has successfully bought a house, Cook said.

"The Hmong see a good thing, and they want their friends and family to be able to have the same opportunity," Cook said.

The Fair Housing Council of Central California has not received any complaints about a lack of diversity in Habitat developments. The housing organization has actually contacted the council to ensure they are in compliance with all fair housing rules, said M.J. Borelli, executive director.

Without Habitat, new homeowner Dao Xiong would not have been able to buy a house for his wife and seven children.

The Xiongs have lived in Fresno since 1988. The nine-person family rents a three-bedroom apartment near the Fresno Fairgrounds. Xiong's daughters share a bedroom, while his sons divide themselves between a bedroom and sleeping in the living room.

Xiong learned about Habitat two years ago from a relative who had successfully bought a Habitat house in Clovis.

He applied and was approved for a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house that is under construction in southwest Fresno.

"When you come to this country, you don't have people who can help you, and you don't know about these programs," Xiong said. "We never thought we would buy a house."