By Gary Acosta
Donald Trump launched his historic and controversial presidential campaign with a promise to end illegal immigration and a pledge to deport the estimated 11 million people who are in the U.S. without the appropriate legal documentation. Since his election, Mr. Trump has seemingly hedged this commitment by suggesting that he will initially focus on “getting rid of illegal aliens with criminal histories.” This should not be a surprise. The whole deportation idea is far more complicated than most people realize. It is also highly political, so it’s helpful to analyze the issue by taking a more market-driven approach.
Housing is something everyone needs — and the business of housing is generally a simple case of supply and demand. Reducing the potential homebuyer pool by 11 million residents would mean substantially fewer transactions over time — potentially as many as 250,000 fewer per year. However, this only begins to tell the story. When you factor in that Hispanics currently account for 50% of all first-time homebuyers nationwide and that 80% of our undocumented population is Hispanic, the overall effect would almost certainly be greater.
The effects of deportation extend far beyond the individuals who are facing ejection. Fully two-thirds of undocumented adults have been in this country for more than 10 years, almost two million of them are married to a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, and 3.8 million have American-born children. This essentially means that if we were to take Mr. Trump’s initial immigration promise literally, it would affect far more than the 11 million undocumented people. The impact would cascade to include as many as 20 million individuals and five million households, a third of whom already own a home.
Anecdotal evidence of this scenario is already playing out. In Washington, D.C., for example, a popular downtown food truck owned and operated by a Hispanic family abruptly closed up shop and the entire family moved to Mexico two days after Trump’s election because one of their family members was undocumented. This was despite the fact that most of the family members had never even been to Mexico.
With respect to the housing industry, there are also ancillary issues to consider, such as the impact a vast deportation scheme would have on the construction industry, where 32% of the workforce is Hispanic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, it is estimated that 15% of construction workers are currently undocumented. A loss of this labor force with nothing to replace it would have substantial effects on home prices and available inventory. As prices increase and supply decreases, homeownership will become increasingly less affordable for the average family.
Most reasonable people agree that unauthorized immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed. Even though the net migration from Mexico has been zero in recent years, a porous border creates security risks, suppresses wages and undermines the efforts of our law enforcement community. In the long run, the country is better off with strong border security and a functioning immigration policy that supports our employment needs and honors our history as a nation strengthened by the indomitable spirit of our immigrant populations.
Regardless of your view on immigration, basic math would indicate that a massive deportation effort would have a negative impact on the housing industry — perhaps substantial enough to cause a second housing crisis — and the impact to our broader economy could be even greater.
More than likely, the Trump administration will take a more measured approach to our immigration issue, including dealing constructively with our undocumented population. Although it may be counterintuitive, Republicans are in a better position than Democrats to lead a reform of our broken immigration system. Conversely, legislating comprehensive immigration reform could ignite a housing boom that could last for years.
First-time homebuyers make move-up buying possible and are the lifeblood of the housing and mortgage market. Hispanic homebuyers in particular are expected to account for five million new homeowners in the next 10 years and will be the driving force in the industry for years to come. The method of how the next administration deals with immigration, particularly for our undocumented population, could end up profoundly affecting the health and well-being of our still fragile mortgage and real estate markets in both the near- and long-term future.
Gary Acosta is the co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.