SAN ANTONIO — For Michael Alfaro, 29, who was recently married, home is a rent-controlled Los Angeles apartment while he and his wife save for a home. For Pamela Cervera, 30, and her boyfriend, it’s a condo they purchased together in Washington. The two millennials may not know it, but both are on the front edge of an important anticipated boost in home ownership.

How Latino millennials like Alfaro and Cervera navigate the expensive and tight housing and rental markets throughout the country is of increasing importance, because the future of home ownership in America will be shaped heavily by Latino millennials like them.

According to “The State of the Nation’s Housing” study by the Joint Center for Housing at Harvard University, minorities will drive three-quarters of the gains in U.S. households, which are projected to reach 13.6 million in the decade of 2015-2025 and Hispanics will account for one third of those gains.

“The fact is the majority of Latinos want to be home owners and will make up half of all new home buyers in the next 20 years. They have a central place in the housing market and finance system,” said Scott Astrada, director of federal advocacy at the Center for Responsible Lending.

But affordable housing and the dream of home ownership is not a reality for many Latino millennials, making this a priority for one of the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organizations.

A panel discussion on “Where Are Millennials Supposed to Live? Affordability in Housing and Homeownership,” takes place Friday at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) annual convention that opened Tuesday and continues here through Saturday.

Many Latinos live in cities where housing prices are simply out of reach.

“We’ve been talking about buying a house, but right now it is beyond our possibilities in the L.A. market,” said Alfaro, a marketing freelancer. “We make more than the average American, but there is no way, even with that, we could afford a house. Getting into that kind of debt for us is scary.”

Home ownership is down for all age groups to about 1994 levels, according to Pew Research Center. For millennials, the home-buying rate decline has been steeper than for other age groups, although there has been a recent uptick in their buying, NBC News reported.

Latinos and home ownership

Latino millennials are far behind their white peers in home ownership. About 51 percent of 25- to 34-year-old non-Latino white millennials owned homes in 2013, compared to 27 percent of Latinos, according to research by Young Invincibles.

Also, home ownership among Latino millennials 25 to 34 has been slightly lower than home ownership was for Baby Boomers during that age period, their research finds.

The Great Recession wiped out about two thirds of Latino wealth, as Pew Hispanic reported, so Latino millennials are “not only starting from scratch, but from a negative,” said Astrada.

But among Hispanics of all ages, the rate of home ownership is growing, even though it has dropped or remained flat in other racial and ethnic groups, according to a report on the 2016 housing market by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

The reasons include the growth in the Latino population, which is younger than other racial and ethnic groups. Latinos’ share of the workforce also is growing and Latinos are leaders in household formations, experts said.

Those factors mean the future of home ownership will depend heavily on whether Latino millennials have access to affordable housing. About 14.6 million Latinos are millennials, according to Pew Research Center.

Equity in a home makes up the biggest asset for a majority of Latinos and provides the economic security needed for many Hispanics to be successful.

Making home ownership a reality

Cervera, LULAC’s senior manager for development, was determined to own, even if she had to take a non-traditional approach to home owning.

When she was a young girl, Cervera and her parents — immigrants from Mexico — shared one room in a two-room apartment with another family of three children and their mother. They bought a condo when she was 13, and that instilled in her the value of home ownership, she said.

Cervera attended school in-state so she could graduate without debt and then after college lived with her parents until age 29, when, a little more than a year ago, she purchased a condo with her boyfriend.

He was paying $800 a month for a room in northwest D.C. and also wanted to buy property. Their relationship became serious, so both wanting to own, they split the down payment for their $369,000 condo, each putting in half of the $30,000 down payment.

They signed a legal agreement to split costs and avoid messiness should things not work out. They also rent out one of the two rooms, to help cover their mortgage. The arrangement allows them live and own in the district, where home values are rising and median rent is $2,695.

“Right now, I have about four friends who are my age and they are actually in same situation . . . (they are) purchasing a condo with someone they are not married to,” Cervera said. “It’s starting to become a trend.”

Alfaro, who freelances in marketing, and his wife, a social media professional, have several real-estate apps on their phones and regularly check listings, he said. But they “know right now that it’s not possible,” Alfaro said.

The idea of getting into massive debt frightens them. “We’ve grown up knowing we shouldn’t have any debt,” Alfaro said.

His parents are Guatemalan and through the interior decorator shop his mother owns there, they saved to send him to college at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif. Alfaro had been here on a work visa and recently became a legal resident.

He said buying a home really wasn’t a possibility for him and his wife until her parents offered to help in the future when they are more financially stable and can afford mortgage payments.

He said many friends find homes when they leave L.A., immediately posting their homes on social media when they buy. But he and his wife wish to remain in L.A., close to work and the things they love, he said.

In addition, there are other considerations to take into account.

“I’m an immigrant … I didn’t have anything that I thought I could rely on to help me out so really having that money in the bank account was better than owning a house,” Alfaro said.

Without a mortgage, “I can send money home to my parents still. That’s something I do every month,” he said. “If I buy a house, I won’t be able to help my family back home; that factors into the situation we are in.”

An increase in Latino wealth is seen as essential for the economy, said the Center for Responsible Learning’s Astrada.

If Hispanic millennials don’t see an increase in buying, there is a potential to “jeopardize the housing market and everything tied to it — economic security, wealth building and all that that entails,” he said.