USC Price School of Public Policy

Lusk Painter Study

Immigrants Drawn to Mid-Size Cities, Study Finds

Gary Painter SPPD associate professor Gary Painter, co-author of the study

A new study by researchers at USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate shows that an increasing number of new Americans are choosing to settle down in mid-size cities across the United States, lured by less competition for jobs and growing neighborhoods of fellow immigrants.

Released in March, the study garnered widespread media coverage. It has been highlighted in news outlets such as the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Forbes.com, the California Real Estate Journal, the Fresno Bee, the Christian Science Monitor and the public radio station KPCC-FM.

Co-authors Gary Painter, associate professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development and director of research for the Lusk Center, and Zhou Yu, assistant professor at the University of Utah, examined 60 cities with housing priced lower than in the major gateways of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

These mid-size cities include Detroit, Minneapolis, Nashville, Colorado Springs, Colo., Sarasota, Fla., and El Paso, Texas. Painter and Yu found that these areas have shown an average 27 percent jump in new immigrant populations at a time when larger cities are losing residents.

The study cites that immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants are expected to swell by 117 million in the next 40 years, making up 82 percent of the total U.S. population growth in that duration.

Painter noted that this migration pattern “has the potential to transform communities.”

“Our data suggest that immigrants are attracted to homes near active support networks of fellow immigrants and in places with lower rates of immigrant growth resulting in less competition for entry-level jobs,” Painter said.

The study also shows that immigrants continue to have a lower homeownership rate than native-born Americans with the same income and education levels.

Painter suggested that cities trying to attract immigrants with employment opportunities should start developing networks of real estate agents and lenders with the same ethnic backgrounds and a willingness to build strong ties to the new arrivals.

“Nurturing links within the immigrant community is key to building a new rank of homeowners,” he said.

Painter also noted that areas with declining home values could see prices stabilize thanks to a wave of first-time homebuyers who speak English as a second language.

The study will be published in the summer issue of International Migration Review, an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal published by the Center for Migration Studies.