Leave West, buy a house;
Property prices luring
Hmong from California
By: Lourdes Medrano Leslie; Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), April 29, 2002, Monday
Chao Vue's Minnesota relatives used to mail real-estate listings to his San
Diego rental home, hoping they could entice him to the Twin Cities area.
"They would tell me how much easier it was to buy a house here," said Vue, a
Hmong refugee who had lived in California for two decades. Two years ago, he came to
Minnesota to stay and soon became a first-time homeowner in Coon Rapids.
Vue has plenty of company. According to newly released data from the 2000
Hmong who live in Minnesota and Wisconsin are three times more likely to own a home
than those in California.
Vue, a 36-year-old mechanic who runs a St. Paul auto shop with his in-laws,
said buying a home in San Diego would have been almost impossible.
"Here there were less hassles, and the down payment is a lot cheaper here than
compared to California," he said.
Other Hmong faced similar challenges in California, experts say.
"That tells me two things," said Fungchatou Lo, a Hmong social scientist who lives in Shoreview and
teaches at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict.
"The economics are much better up here and the housing structure is much better."
Lo said the availability of higher-paying jobs in Minnesota meant Hmong could
buy homes even as real-estate prices rose in the late '90s. But it was the
strong job market and family connections that were primarily responsible for
luring recent Hmong migrants to the Upper Midwest.
"Once they got the jobs, they were able to buy houses," Lo said.
Many of the state's Hmong are transplants from California, where more than half
of the nation's estimated 90,000 Hmong had settled by 1990 since arriving in
this country after the Vietnam War.
California still leads the nation with the highest Hmong population, but in
2000, Minnesota and Wisconsin together had more Hmong residents, 76,000, than
California, at 65,000. The number of Hmong in the two Midwest states had more
than doubled in the 1990s.
Houses are more affordable in Fresno than in some California cities, but even
as prices went up late in the last decade, Twin Cities-area houses were much
more affordable than in Fresno, where many of the California Hmong live.
As of 1999, 77 percent of the houses in the Twin Cities area were considered
affordable for persons with the median family income of $63,600, according to the National Association of Home Builders. In Fresno, only
59 percent of houses were affordable by those with that area's median family
income of $37,000. The Twin Cities area was 38th most affordable of the nation's roughly
200 biggest major metro areas and Fresno 138th.
But the median sales price in Fresno was $109,000, compared with $140,000 here, so the Hmong needed to increase their earning power to buy homes
Longtime Hmong activist Lee Pao Xiong, of St. Paul, president of the Urban
Coalition, said the housing stock is just another good reason for the Hmong to
live permanently in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"I think people are putting down roots in areas where there's employment, areas
where the quality of life is better," Xiong said.
Bryan Vue, a cousin of Chao Vue, is a St. Paul real-estate agent who has helped
many Hmong renters buy property.
"They see it as absurd to have to pay $1,000 a month for a rental when they can purchase it," he said.
"I think we're seeing a lot of various factors here, but certainly I think
people are kind of going toward the trend of taking homeownership to the next
level and even going beyond that to investment properties."
Ilean Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, said
her Hmong community doesn't believe in renting because people owned homes in
their native Laos. To become homeowners in the mountain valleys of the
Southeast Asian country, she said, all they had to do was mark trees, cut them
down and use them as beams and siding in their plain dwellings.
"Any tree in the forest was yours, any piece of land was yours, as long as you
cleared it," she said.
Of course, Her said, homeownership isn't that simple in the United States.
Hmong residents who can't afford to buy homes are forced to rent, she said, but
it also isn't uncommon for people to pool their money to buy a property.
"If you're working, they go ahead and buy _ that's the philosophy of the
community," she said.
Staff Writer David Peterson contributed to this report.
_ Lourdes Medrano Leslie is at email@example.com.
Asian homeowners compared
Minnesota's Hmong and Laotians, relative newcomers to the United States, had
higher ownership rates than their counterparts in California. But among
Japanese-Americans, who have generally been here longer, homeownership rates
were higher in California. Homeownership rates for Thai were about the same. to
the United States, had higher ownership rates than their counterparts in
California. But among Japanese-Americans, who have generally been here longer,
homeownership rates were higher in California. Homeownership rates for Thai
were about the same
54% 48% 18%
State Minn. Wis. Calif.
No. households 6,735 5,499 9,544
No. owned 3,657 2,651 1,696
State Minn. Calif.
No. households 1,530 127,113
No. owned 806 81,004
State Minn. Calif.
No. households 2,159 10,958
No. owned 1,378 3,466
State Minn. Calif.
No. households 266 10,722
No. owned 128 5,504
- Source: U.S. Census Bureau
The homeownership rate for Hmong in Minnesota and Wisconsin was far greater
than in California, where homes are generally more expensive.