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Baltimore’s housing market eyes immigrants

Immigrants are increasingly being depended on to bolster Baltimore’s population, and by extension its housing market, according to a city report released Wednesday that proposes several strategies to help these residents find homes.

Those suggestions include expanding the Live Where You Work Program’s incentives to small businesses, expanding the Vacants to Value Program to include rent-to-buy options and creating a lending program for residents who don’t have Social Security numbers but have Individual Tax ID numbers.

“We know that part of the growth that the city has had is due to immigrant communities, and knowing that cities that have been able to grow have been able to do so due to immigrant communities, it’s extremely important we retain those immigrants who choose Baltimore,” said Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, director of the mayor’s office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs. “They will be instrumental in attracting more immigrants.”

According to the report, titled The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore, the city’s “reputation as a city of immigrants is being revived” after the population of foreign-born residents fell to between 4.5 and 3.5 percent on average post-World War II, from as high as 20 percent between the late 19th Century and the 1920s.

Since 2000 the number of immigrants in the city has increased to more than 45,000, which represents 7.3 percent of Baltimore’s population. That increase in immigrants also coincides with the city posting a population growth of 1,143 residents between 2010 and 2013.

The largest groups of immigrants have come from Latin American countries, with many of those residents clustered in the Highlandtown and Patterson Park areas. There have also been 10,000 immigrants from Asia—with significant numbers coming from China, Korea, India and the Philippines — clustering around Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood and medical campuses. Immigrants averaged a median household income of $40,796, owned 7,500 homes in the city and rented 11,700 residences in the city.

But the recommendations included in the report are just suggestions for programs that could attract and retain immigrant residents. The report doesn’t include concrete steps on how and when to implement any new or expanded programs.

“We know that each recommendation is going to be a lengthy process because we’re going to be knocking on a lot of doors. A lot of these recommendations are not just exclusive to city agencies but require private entities and foundations, and we’re aware of that,” Rodriguez-Lima said.

Some organizations said they have already taken steps to make Baltimore a more attractive place for immigrants to live.

Live Baltimore, which promotes city living, is already trying to reach out to immigrants, particularly those from Spanish-speaking countries, by making its website bilingual.

The group is also working with the mayor’s Immigrant Affairs office to identify the housing needs of these residents. Steven Gondol, the group’s executive director, said that during its last Buying into Baltimore event officials had more than 40 people from the International Rescue Committee in Highlandtown, which helps people impacted by humanitarian crisis, attended the event.

“I think that if you look at some of these other cities who have done really well they can point to these groups as being a contributing factor in their renaissance and growth,” Gondol said. “So, I think that many of us that work in housing have [thought], ‘How can we work with them?’ Because we think they’re very eager to be part of the city fabric.”