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Immigrant Families Benefiting from Home-Sharing Economy, Study Finds

Immigrant families, a growing share of homeowners, are turning their homes into an economic asset through programs like Airbnb.
Contracts to buy homes rose in March for the first time in nine months.
Contracts to buy homes rose in March for the first time in nine months.Elise Amendola / AP

Immigrants are a significant and growing share of the nation's entrepreneurs, so it's not surprising that immigrant families are turning their homes into an economic asset through the sharing economy.

A report by the National Immigration Forum finds immigrants are benefiting from the home-sharing model such as Airbnb, which allows people to share their homes with others in exchange for a fee.

For some families, the sharing model provides them much-needed supplemental income. In Los Angeles, for example, people typically earn $7,000 a year from participating in Airbnb.

“What we found is that the home-sharing model really provided opportunities for immigrants to further their aspirations, whether it’s saving money for college or being able to keep their homes,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

More than half of immigrant families own their own homes, and since 1994 they've made up about a third of new households.

Many of them also live in urban and suburban areas, where the majority of home sharing occurs. Between 2000 and 2013, the suburbs in the largest metro areas experienced 76 percent of the country's immigration growth.

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Noorani said the study couldn’t determine if immigrants participate in home sharing more than others. “What we did find was that the immigrant communities that we studied in three particular cities certainly participated to a greater degree than we expected,” he said.

Those three cities are Chicago, Los Angeles and New York – all of which have a long history of attracting immigrants as well as tourism. According to the study, people who share their homes and live in majority-immigrant neighborhoods in these three cities have earned more than $24 million through home-sharing.

The report comes as cities across the country are trying to find a way to regulate home sharing companies like Airbnb, citing the impact on affordable housing and illegal rentals. Nooranit said he hopes policymakers who are considering measures to restrict home-sharing models will look at the findings.

“The reason we did this report was so that policymakers could see the benefits of this model through the eyes of an immigrant homeowner,” he said.

The study profiled several immigrant families using Airbnb in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

America Lopez and her family are among those profiled. She and her 25-year-old twin sister's parents, who immigrated from Mexico, own a duplex in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Lincoln Heights in Los Angeles. The family has an adjustable rate mortage on their home, and their payments can be high. Today, they use Airbnb to share their home.

“At first my parents were hesitant about how it would work,” Lopez is quoted as saying in the study. “They have difficulty with English. We reassured them by managing it all – dealing with the guests, managing the website – all of it. Now they get it and enjoy the extra money it brings in.”

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