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Latino populations in Utah County: Where are they? What housing challenges do they face?

From the Latinos in Utah County series
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Across the Beehive State, the Latino population is by far the largest minority.

Latinos make up 14.2% of the state’s population, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data. That number is believed to be increasing in 2019.

The rest of the minority population only accounts for 8% in Utah, while minorities other than Latinos account for more than a fifth of the nation’s population, 21.3%, Census Bureau data shows.

In Utah County, Latinos make up 11.2% of the population, according to the 2018 Utah County Community Assessment.

Latino populations are not spread evenly across the state, or even Utah County. According to the Utah State Board of Education, 24% of students in Provo City School District are Latino while both Nebo School District and Alpine School District round out to about 12% Latino students.

Utah County School Districts bar graph: Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged, English Language learners

Stats from Utah State Board of Education.

And according to the 2018 Utah County Community Assessment, Orem and Provo both have the highest numbers of Latinos and the highest percentages of Latinos: Provo has 19,066, making up 16.5%, and Orem has 15,947, making up 17.1%.

The assessment also shows Latino Utah County citizens have a median household income of $45,308, while white citizens make an average of $62,884. The percentage of Utah County Latinos below the poverty line is almost double the amount of white citizens — 21.1% and 10.9%, respectively.

The reasons and factors behind where Latino populations are more densely located in Utah County, and why, are vast and connected to other factors regarding race, poverty, the housing market, resources and more.

Where are Latino populations in Utah County?

Abraham Hernandez, executive director of Centro Hispano in Provo, confirmed that Latinos have a history of living more densely in the Provo and Orem areas, particularly in the 84601 and 84606 postal code areas.

But, despite that history of congregating in central Utah County, Hernandez said he’s recently seen a trend of Latinos spreading out, particularly south and west.

“Latinos are moving further down south in the county and going up really north in the county to Eagle Mountain,” he said. “We’re seeing a huge bloom of Latino populations in Eagle Mountain, to the point where we’ve actually had people request our services up there.”

Hernandez sees farm-related work drawing Latinos further down south, and factory-related work drawing Latinos further north.

“People are going where their jobs are,” he said. “It makes it easier on the commute, especially if you’re a low-income family that just has one car.”

But overall, he believes “it has to do with the housing market being more accessible or friendly to our community” in those areas.

“Provo is becoming really expensive to live in in general,” Hernandez said. “And when you have mom and dad who are working two jobs each and not making a lot of money, it’s a little bit tougher to keep them here (Provo).”

Because of central Utah County’s rising housing prices, home ownership is more accessible further south or north.

“They’re weighing their options — do I buy a house, pay a little bit more, but at least I own my house, or do I pay a lot of rent, and maybe it’s not kid-friendly, maybe it’s not enough bedrooms,” Hernandez said. “Particularly when you look at how Latino families are multigenerational homes. You have grandma living there, you have your parents, and obviously the kids, so they need a bigger space.”

Hernandez added that, in general, Latino families might pick one place to live in the county over another because of their impression that some schools are more Latino-friendly than others.

“I think all the school districts in Utah county are pretty good,” Hernandez said. “It’s more on an individual level, where maybe students are just being picked on by other students, maybe teachers aren’t being as accessible to Latino parents as other schools.”

Unique housing obstacles facing Latinos

The unique challenges Latinos face when it comes to housing have a lot to do with language and cultural barriers, Hernandez said.

“They don’t know who to ask for help when it comes to housing,” he said. “If you think of a recent immigrant family who has no connections here, who do (they) turn to? And sometimes that’s when we get into landlord disputes, because the landlord will start upping the rent or not fixing things, because they’re taking advantage of the fact that that person doesn’t speak the language.”

Hernandez is unfortunately all too familiar with that situation — he said Centro Hispano often helps its patrons with landlord disputes in situations where the patron feels their landlord is taking advantage of them because they’re Latino.

Additionally, the rising cost of housing is creating socioeconomic barriers to a certain degree, Hernandez said, especially for the 21.1% living in poverty.

That barrier is evident to W. Dave Smith, food bank manager at Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo.

“This is a general estimate, but there’s no question that over 50% of people that we serve typically are Latino,” Smith said.

Smith sees gentrification, or the process of improving a housing area to conform to middle-class taste, as a housing problem facing those who are lower-income in the Latino community.

“It is affecting our community, and affordable housing is a significant problem for our area exacerbated due to the colleges and the student rentals,” Smith said. “We have seen quite an increase in people who have basically been bumped out of housing because the landlords are improving, upgrading and then raising the rents.”

Hernandez said another unique housing challenge Latinos face in Utah County is a lack of education: The entire homebuying process in the U.S. has many differences in comparison to Latino or Hispanic countries.

“Understanding of laws and those paths that you have to take (while buying a house) can be a little difficult sometimes,” Hernandez said.

Smith confirmed that Community Action sometimes sees its clients not fully understanding processes fully when they’re trying to get into a home, which leads to things falling apart.

“They end up losing their down payment, losing the house, getting foreclosed on,” he said.

Everything is interconnected

The reasons behind where Latino populations are located and their housing situations throughout Utah County are complex and interconnected with other general problems facing the population.

“Obviously housing is a really essential thing to be stable, to be able to work on financial goals or other goals, you really have to have a stable place to live,” said Kathy Givens, Circles Utah Valley coordinator.

Latinos who participate in the Circles program, an intensive financial stability course offered to the public that can last for two years, have to be able to understand and speak English to participate and have proof that they’re living in Utah legally. Community Action also requires its patrons to show proof of being in the U.S. legally to take full advantage of the services the program offers, though it will offer food to anyone who needs without certifying their status.

Smith added generational poverty as another issue some Latinos are facing that is interconnected with their housing situation.

“A lot of it is that people who are in poverty, born into generational poverty, they just don’t have a view of the possibilities that might exist for them,” he said.

Utah Valley’s history of redlining — the systematic denial of various services to residents of specific, often racially associated, neighborhoods or communities — has also sent ripple effects into Latino’s housing situations today, Smith said.

“Way way back when when I came out of school and went into the banking field, redlining was a practice across the whole country … that was abolished and done away with, but that was an example of the kind of thing society had to deal with continually, and try to work through (now),” he said. “From the banker’s view, they didn’t want to lend money for projects in certain areas because of the blight and urban decay, so it’s all somewhat interconnected.”

Transportation issues are also a challenge facing the Latinos they help at Community Action, Smith said. If they’re not able to get to and from a place that will help them, it’s difficult to ever start the path of financial stability that leads good housing situations.

Community resources available to Latinos

Many community resources, both nonprofit and government, are available to the 21.1% of Utah County Latinos living in poverty and any other seeking help with housing.

Housing Authority of Utah County and Housing Authority of Provo offers housing help and projects for those who qualify. Centro Hispano offers help with landlord disputes, among other services. Several Latino families have been able to receive a Habitat for Humanity home in Utah County. The Circles initiative is available to those who are willing to commit to their financial-stability program. And Community Action has multiple programs for housing assistance, along with food and financial assistance.

Smith pointed out that many resources in Utah County are connected in what he calls a continuum of care.

“All of us are trying to help people go from, maybe sleeping under the viaduct with their kids, to ultimately getting into a home. So along that way, there’s food and care for the hot meal and the soup kitchen and a place to stay, then they come here (Community Action),” Smith said. “Then we work with other agencies that help them with mental issues they may have, drug rehab issues that they may have, job training issues that they may have, English as a second language, and you’re connected in a continuum to help that person progress, maybe all the way to Habitat for Humanity where they help them build a home, and they go on from there.“

Angela Morris, Utah County’s certified public accountant and board chair of the Housing Authority of Utah County, said Latinos can also take advantage of their family self-sufficiency program. The program involves providing low rent to those who qualify, and meanwhile they are required to accomplish different goals, such as pay for education, purchase a car or put a down payment on a house. Once they graduate the program, they’re given a check to help them further achieve the goals they set.

“We think it gives them a big step ahead on accomplishing so many of their goals,” Morris said.

Givens said that though the Circles program does not currently offer classes in Spanish, they’ve had Latino families consisting of some members who only speak Spanish participate in the past, and they were still able to participate while their family members translated for them.

Givens sees volunteer allies as one of the most helpful parts of the Circles program for Latino participants in particular.

“At the end of 12 weeks (of budgeting and smart goals classes), we match them with community volunteers who are friends and allies, middle class citizens who bring life experience to walk that journey with them,” Givens said.

Those allies can be a big help to Latino participants who need assistance acclimating to the new culture in Utah and learning how different systems and processes work, Givens said.

“There’s a lot of needs. When the community comes together with all the different efforts and resources and they (those in need) are invested in their own journey of success, then we can make a big difference and help,” Givens said.

Utah County: The place Latinos can turn to

Centro Hispano has worked with the mom of a disabled daughter for several years, Hernandez said. She started out living in Provo, where she was involved in the Provo City School District and Centro Hispano’s adult English Language Learning program.

“She moved up to Salt Lake because she thought there was more opportunity to make money and provide a better life for her daughter up there, but she started seeing that resources that she needed weren’t there; the community that she needed wasn’t there,” Hernandez said.

While Salt Lake County has a higher Latino population than Utah County, along with several organizations similar to Centro Hispano, it can become daunting because of its large size, Hernandez explained.

“And so, she said, ‘I moved back down to Provo to work in Orem, because I knew this community,’” Hernandez said. “I think that’s what makes Utah County so special — even though we’re growing so much and so fast, we’re still community-based. And I think that’s why we have such a growing Latino population here in Utah County.”

Hernandez said smaller towns across the state, where one gets to know the community, are seeing Latino population increases.

“And that’s so important to the Latino community,” he said. “We’re community-oriented, we’re family-oriented, we want to know who our neighbors are. We want to know who we can trust. And Utah County just happens to be that place that they can turn to.”

Hernandez has first-hand experience when it comes to the Latino-friendliness of Utah Valley.

“On a personal level, growing up Latino in Utah County, specifically in Provo, I felt like I didn’t fit in with my Latino community, because I was lighter-skinned,” he said.

But then he started attending Latino-centered community events, where he saw and met Latino attendees who came in all colors and characters. He still loves going to the same type of events.

“It makes me feel a little bit more included,” he said. “It depends on who you’re talking to, but I think Utah County is a great place for the Latino community … they’re embraced.”

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