Zobeida López Osorio has spent the past several years saving to buy a home. But that dream still seems far off.

López Osorio currently shares an apartment in Dorchester with her mom, who has dementia, though she envisions owning a modest home with a yard where she can grow tomatoes and peppers. She has a stable job with the state’s Department of Transitional Services, but because she owes more than $70,000 in student loans, the highest mortgage she can qualify for right now is $150,000.

“I couldn’t afford to even get a mortgage for a storage unit,” she said.

Although Latino families like López Osorio’s make up the second-largest racial group in Massachusetts, they are far less likely to own homes than residents of other races, according to a new GBH News/CommonWealth Beacon poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group (toplines,crosstabs).

Of the 1,002 respondents to the online survey from March 21 to 29, just over half said they are homeowners, while 37% said they’re renters. The number of people who said they own homes differed sharply based on race: 33% of Latino respondents compared to 58% of white residents, 54% of Asian respondents and 42% of Black people.

Researchers and advocates who study homeownership trends around Massachusetts attributed the relatively low rate among Latino households to high housing costs and mortgage lending disparities. As long as those obstacles exist, they said, Latino households will lose out on the benefits of owning a home and the racial wealth gap between them and white families in Massachusetts will persist.

“Homeownership is the premier mechanism in this country for a family to build assets, to be able to create wealth,” said Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of the Boston community development corporation Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción. “We are the fastest-growing population in the state, so the economic well-being of the Latino community in Massachusetts is the economic well-being of the state.”

“We are the fastest-growing population in the state, so the economic well-being of the Latino community in Massachusetts is the economic well-being of the state.”
Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción

According to the latest U.S. Census data, there are nearly 900,000 Hispanic or Latino residents in Massachusetts, trailing only the state’s white population of about 4.9 million. Since 1980, Latino families have accounted for 92% of the increase in Boston’s population.

At the same time all those families began to call Massachusetts home, however, housing development stagnated, said Bianca Ortiz-Wythe, a policy analyst at UMass Boston’s Mauricio Gastón Institute. Part of the problem was exclusionary zoning, she said, which limits the number of housing units that can be built in communities. The resulting apartment shortage has caused prices to spike and left more than half of Latino families cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income on housing and utilities.

“That causes economic insecurity, which exacerbates issues like food insecurity, which is a significant issue for Latino families,” Ortiz-Wythe said. “And of course with ... economic insecurity, that’s going to result in low homeownership rates.”

She added it doesn’t help that many Latino residents work in the construction and hospitality industries where wages are limited. Others, like López Osorio, are saddled with student loans that prevent them from qualifying for mortgages.

Homeownership researchers say additional factors like language barriers and a complicated mortgage application process make it difficult for Latino residents to purchase homes. And although racist housing policies like redlining and blockbusting are now illegal, they’ve had long-lasting effects, leaving people of color with fewer savings and less ability to receive financial help from their families than white borrowers.

Massachusetts does have programs that try to make the homebuying process more equitable. MassHousing, a quasi-public agency, provides eligible first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance and mortgage loans with more flexible income and credit requirements. The Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance also has helped educate more than 20,000 people about the homebuying process.

Eva Sanchez graduated from one of the alliance’s programs. Sanchez, who works for Fidelity Investments and rents in Roxbury, said a few years ago she could afford to buy a home. But the mortgage application intimidated her, so she put it off. Even though she’s since learned more about the homebuying process and feels more comfortable with it, Sanchez said she can no longer afford a home for herself and her two children because mortgage rates are higher now.

“You start to think that you’re never going to meet your goal and you’re just going to stay stuck in the rental,” Sanchez said.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Justice has found some banks around the country have discriminated against prospective Latino and Black mortgage applicants. In Massachusetts, research has shown that people of color are more likely to be denied mortgages or receive them on less favorable terms even when adjusting for their income and debt. Researchers say that may be due to bias within mortgage loan algorithms. Other bank decisions about community outreach and where to open branches can also lead to lending discrimination.

“Anecdotally, we have heard also from families ... about feeling discriminated [against] or feeling like they have not received the kind of customer service or care from lending institutions,” Calderón-Rosado said.

In a statement, the Massachusetts Banking Association said it and the 123 member institutions it represents “strongly denounce discrimination in any form” as people try to buy homes and secure mortgages. The trade group said high mortgage interest rates and housing prices have made purchasing a home an almost impossible venture right now.

“Our member banks, which collectively span and support every community throughout the Commonwealth, stand ready to assist and provide credit to all who qualify,” the association said.

Latino families have had more success securing mortgages in Gateway Cities like Lawrence and Revere. Although that sounds like progress, experts said it also means the state is becoming more segregated since Latino residents continue to struggle to secure loans in the Boston area.

Javier Juarez, director of the Latino Equity Fund at the Boston Foundation, noted that Massachusetts has already seen its population decrease due to the high cost of housing. He said he’s concerned that Latino residents’ struggles to buy homes could exacerbate that.

“Latinos are one of the youngest populations in the state,” Juarez said. “And if you’re unable to really build roots ... folks are going to move away.”