Housing: How Ceiba Guides Immigrants Seeking A Home

As a product of collaboration between four other Latino-focused groups (Esperanza, Norris Square Community Alliance, Concilio de Organizaciones Hispanas de Filadelfia and Finanta), Ceiba is an organization which offers a range of services, including advocacy work and financial literacy programs.

Another Ceiba program assists immigrants with a fundamental need: housing. It connects a variety of people in need — homeowners, renters and those saving to buy a home — with counselors who help them develop a budget and tailor an action plan to their goals. As a part of the organization’s asset building initiatives, it works with low to moderate-income families to protect what they earn, become homeowners and, if they’re already homeowners, to maintain homeownership. Programming such as tax preparation and housing counseling are tools to asset building.

Will Gonzalez, the executive director of Ceiba, spoke about the coalition’s housing counseling program, barriers immigrants face when seeking housing and the value of a home.

Why do you offer housing counseling?

In the best of circumstances, no one should spend more than 35 to 40 percent of their income on housing. There are a few people who do that, including people who are in good economic situations. That’s why housing counseling is very important because that way we try to make sure people are in secure housing, safe housing, healthy housing and affordable housing. It’s tough to kind of restrict yourself to a 40 percent limit, but that’s what we try to do.

How are immigrants impacted by this need?

Philadelphia has seen a growth in its foreign-born population. We also know that there are unauthorized immigrants, and they merit attention as well. There are 12,000 unauthorized immigrants in Philadelphia who own or occupy housing, according to the Migration Policy Institute. We provide a service to everybody, but we developed an expertise in terms of meeting the needs of people who are immigrants and who are limited in resources.

What are some of the barriers immigrants face when they arrive in Philadelphia and search for housing?  

They’re no different from any other group of people in terms of securing housing. I think the biggest barrier is price because you want to live in certain locations either because you want to be close to your job or issues of schools or issues of safety. But Philadelphia is facing an affordable housing challenges now, so it’s tough for them. I still think that there is opportunity for people to buy homes.

In terms of when immigrants come, they usually look at their informal networks to find a place to live, family, friends, etc. Not everybody comes to us. There are some people who try to use informal networks and sometimes that’s when you get in trouble because buying and selling a home is a timely process. It is a process with a lot of dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s.

What are barriers faced by unauthorized immigrants specifically?

They sometimes think that because they’re unauthorized, they are not afforded the protections. Sometimes they cut corners or they are told they have to cut corners. I think our role is to educate people and let them know, no, they’re like any other buyer in all respects.

I think it’s more difficult for the unauthorized immigrant because they have less options as to where to secure a mortgage. With other buyers, they have various banks, various mortgage companies.

What’s the value of owning a home?

A home is one’s place. We’re all humans, we all want a place that we feel comfortable and safe at for our families and it’s kind of like a castle. A home is either a good, safe place that you rent, or you own it outright and it’s ours. I think it’s the primal nature of having the place where you and your family come together and the simplicity of sharing meals to sleeping at night and safety from the elements. It’s just a basic human need. 


— Text and photos by Grace Shallow.

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