For California's Mexican immigrants, homeownership is patrimonio, an inheritance passed down to the next generation.
"(It's) what you leave to your kids," Carlos González Gutiérrez, consul general of Mexico in Sacramento, said Monday. "That word means a lot in Spanish."
Preserving and protecting that investment is the focus of a pilot program launched this week to help Mexican and other Latino immigrants in the northern San Joaquin Valley avoid foreclosure.
Losses of jobs and income are common problems affecting many immigrants in Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, González Gutiérrez said.
"No one gains by people failing to pay their mortgages - not the bank, not the family," he said. "But the ones who suffer most are the kids, the second generation."
To help those in his jurisdiction avoid falling into foreclosure, González Gutiérrez teamed with the Catholic dioceses of Sacramento and Stockton, the state Department of Consumer Affairs and nonprofit ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions to offer free workshops and counseling.
The foreclosure prevention workshops, open to Mexican and other Latino immigrants, run through Friday at three Catholic churches in Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto. Next week, mortgage counseling will be offered to the general public at the consul general's office, 1010 Eighth St., in Sacramento. All sessions will be in Spanish and English.
The workshop project comes as Latino homeownership nears historic highs: about one of every two Latino households owns a home, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The project focuses on a region and a state hit hard by the housing crisis.
According to the Pew center, Latino and black homebuyers in 2007 were far more likely than whites to borrow in the higher-priced subprime market. They also carried more debt relative to income.
In 2007, the Pew center said, 27.6 percent of home loans to Latinos and 33.5 percent to blacks were higher-priced loans, compared with just 10.5 percent of loans to whites.
Speaking to The Bee after a news conference Monday, González Gutiérrez says he got the idea for his foreclosure program while talking with Mexican-born service workers at his own home: the cable TV installer from Jalisco and the air conditioner repairman from Zacatecas.
Unaware of González Gutiérrez's post, both workers told him they were at risk of losing their homes for financial reasons. The Zacatecas immigrant declared he was living "the American dream," González Gutiérrez said, "but the only thing he regretted was that he was losing his home."
Like many homeowners everywhere, Latinos have been hurt first by the subprime lending crisis, then by the recession. Some lost their jobs, and others are earning far less than they once did. In both cases, the mortgage payment gets harder to make.
Language barriers and a reluctance to seek help add to the financial problems. Many fall victim to mortgage scams.
"Our community has special needs," González Gutiérrez said. "It doesn't ask for help, and a significant number are undocumented, so they're subject to predators who take advantage of their situation."
That's why partnerships with local clergy, credit counseling groups and state agencies are important, he said.
"We're making sure that consumers aren't being ripped off," said Brian Stiger, director of the state Department of Consumer Affairs. " … People are desperate. They're looking for help and don't know where to turn."
González Gutiérrez hopes the new programs can be an answer.
"Behind each house (facing) problems there is much sacrifice and much work from a working family," González Gutiérrez said. "To avoid foreclosure is a way to protect the patrimony of the following generation."