Five Findings on the Future of U.S. Immigration and the Suburban Dream

If you were to ask someone where to find the best Vietnamese food in Washington, D.C., you may be told to head to Eden Center, a Vietnamese shopping center in the northern Virginia suburb of Falls Church. Looking for great Peruvian rotisserie chicken? Don’t head downtown, but rather to the Wheaton community in the Maryland suburbs. Cuisine from around the world can be found in the D.C. suburbs, which are also home to growing and thriving immigrant populations.

Over the past two decades, immigrants have fueled the growth of suburban communities all across the country. And in the years to come, one of the greatest sources of housing demand in the country—and particularly in the suburbs—will be from people who come to the United States from other countries.

New immigrants could account for one-third of all household growth over the next decade, adding approximately 2.9 million new homeowner households and 1.1 million new renter households between 2015 and 2025, based on recent forecasts from the Research Institute for Housing America of the Mortgage Bankers Association. For the real estate industry, planners, and public officials, this growth poses several questions: Where will immigrant households settle? What types of neighborhoods and housing will they choose? And how will they change the face of the nation’s suburbs?

The potential impact of the foreign-born population on local housing markets—and the extent to which these immigrants will be homeowners or renters, suburbanites or city dwellers—depend on the socioeconomic characteristics of the people themselves, as well as on the regions in which they settle. In some cases, the growing immigrant population may fuel continued population growth in central cities. But in many instances, immigrants will be a key source of demand for single-family housing in the suburbs. The dream of homeownership—and particularly suburban homeownership—remains strong among newcomers to the United States.

The ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing is examining the housing characteristics and residential location choices of the foreign-born population to better understand the impact that immigrants could have on local housing markets across the country, particularly in the suburbs.

Analyzing data from five metropolitan areas, this research looks at the housing tenure (owner/renter), type of housing unit (single-family/multifamily), and locations (suburban/urban) of immigrant households. In addition to public data from the U.S. Census Bureau on the foreign-born population, this analysis makes use of a new suburban typology developed by RCLCO and ULI to get a better picture of the varied American neighborhoods that immigrants now call home, which may provide some insight into the likely choices of future immigrants.

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