Thursday, April 30, 2009

Give Immigrants Quick Citizenship for Buying Houses: Will It Really Fix the Housing Mess?

On April 17th investment advisor Scott Burns applauded the creativity of an idea previously floated in the Wall Street Journal in March: fix the U.S. housing market by guaranteeing quick citizenship to immigrants who buy a house here.

The original article, Immigrants Can Help Fix the Housing Bubble, was an op-ed column by real estate developer Richard S. Lefrak and economist A. Gary Schilling. They suggested that the U.S. housing market is currently over-built by about 2.4 million homes, and that if a million immigrants bought homes two years in a row, most of the oversupply would be gone.

As an inducement immigrant buyers would be given temporary resident status upon purchasing a home, then permanent resident status after five or so years, "if they still owned the houses and maintained clean records."

It was remarkable that such an idea would appear in the WSJ, a publication not usually associated with increasing immigration into the United States.

Burns titled his analysis "Buy a Home, Save America, Become a Citizen." For the most part he summarized the original column accurately. But he omitted a few key details like temporary resident status and permanent resident status. His summary implied that Lefrak and Schilling were proposing instant full citizenship for immigrant home-buyers:

"Reducing interest rates or resetting mortgage payments won’t reduce that surplus. The only way it will disappear is if new customers appear and buy those homes. The fastest way to do this is to offer citizenship to immigrants as a reward for buying a home in America. Here’s the formula: Buy a home. Save America. Become a citizen."

Evidently a few people told Burns he was not being entirely accurate. On April 28th he published a nearly identical analysis on MSN.Money. But this time he called it "Let immigrants fix the housing mess" and the summary had the following changes (in italics):

"The fastest way to do this is to offer green cards to immigrants as a reward for buying a home in America. Here's the formula: Buy a home. Save America. Become a legal immigrant."

The revision not withstanding, most of the comments on Burns' MSN article range from negative to hostile. Yet the comments are a useful catalogue of pros and cons that anyone concerned about improving the economy should take the time to read.

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