“We feel like our dreams are slipping away from us” – The Journal
Roberta Villalobos and her husband, whose real names I hide for privacy reasons, started looking for a house to buy in Durango more than two years ago. But so far they have backed off.
“We found houses,” Villalobos explained. “But we continue to bring in offers from out-of-state buyers. And the prices have doubled since we started looking. We feel like our dreams are slipping away from us.
The last house Villalobos found was a 1,400 square foot townhouse. The unit was in Durango, which would have allowed his children to stay in the same school. According to Zillow, the home sold for $369,000 in 2018, but four years later went for $547,500, a 48% increase. The Villaloboses made a competitive offer, but a second-home buyer offered thousands more than the asking price. Losing another home, after so many years of sacrifice, was hard to swallow.
“During the pandemic, my husband kept food stocked on the shelves and contributed to a vital part of our economy,” Villalobos said. “He’s a hero. But unfortunately, the real estate market doesn’t see it that way.
Villalobos and her husband are part of Durango’s rapidly declining middle class, but their story reflects a larger trend. Like them, millions of Americans are seeing their dreams of joining the middle class vanish as their purchasing power is overwhelmed by inequality and inflation. According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of American households belonged to the middle class in 1971. Today, only 50% are.
“We left Mexico to improve our future, to start a family and to be economically stable,” she explained. “We came to give our children a safe home.”
The Villalobos have worked hard to position themselves as homeownership. When they emigrated to the United States, they moved to a local trailer park, which allowed them to keep costs down, while growing professionally and saving for a home. But now that they are finally eligible for a loan, the bidding wars have created a new barrier.
“We made offers that we think are fair,” Villalobos said. “But the sellers take the highest bid and we just haven’t been able to compete. It’s discouraging because we want to be part of this community. We live here, we work here, we are essential workers, but it is increasingly difficult for us to stay here.
As Latinos, Villalobos are the youngest demographic group in the country, accounting for nearly 20% of the national population. In this sense, they represent the future. Yet despite population growth, the Latinx population – like other minority groups – struggles to get rich. In fact, the median wealth of Latino households in 2019 was just $14,000, which pales in comparison to the $160,200 reported for non-Hispanic white households.
The gap between Latino and white households is largely related to homeownership. While 73% of non-Hispanic whites own their homes, only 47% of Latinos own the home they live in. In a country where 66% of an average family’s wealth is tied to the value of their home, Latinos like Villaloboses are ill-positioned to keep pace with the American dream.
“It seems unfair,” Villalobos concluded. “It’s as if we had to leave Durango, the city that we love so much because it is no longer affordable. We just want an opportunity.
And they deserve one. But giving the Villaloboses — and other families like them — a fair chance at home ownership will require local leaders to expand the housing stock, while subsidizing affordable housing. This will require innovative tax structures that levy rates on second home buyers and tourists that can offset rapid inflation in local markets. More of the same simply will not suffice.
Ben Waddell is an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College and serves on the board of directors of Compañeros, a Durango-based nonprofit immigration rights organization.