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National campaign aims to boost faltering Hispanic household wealth

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WASHINGTON – A national group that plans to mount a multiyear campaign to improve income and household wealth among Hispanic families pointed to Arizona on Monday as a potential leader in that effort.

“Arizona has a major economic engine at work through its fast-growing Hispanic population,” said former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, who joined the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals to kick off a campaign that aims to triple Hispanic household wealth within the next decade.

“We are expecting a lot of leadership from Arizona, especially in real estate,” Cisneros said. “What better state than Arizona? What better model for economic growth?”

The campaign is likely to include a focus on home ownership, although details will not be finalized for the next several months, while the association commissions a study and report from the University of Chicago on the current situation and best ways to proceed.

“We’re putting together a brain trust made up of both Hispanics and non-Hispanics to reach our goals,” said Gary Acosta, CEO of the association that’s behind the plan.

Cisneros said the need is real, as Hispanic wealth has fallen rapidly in recent years.

“Hispanics earn about 80 percent of the average American income. But what’s worse is that Hispanics only have 10 percent of the average net worth,” Cisneros said.

One problem with family wealth is that many Hispanics are immigrants, he said, but that it takes longer, sometimes a whole generation, to build up wealth.

“America runs on savings, investment, and ownership. If any segment of the population is locked out of that, it denies prosperity,” said Cisneros, who was hopeful that Arizona’s real estate industry and large Hispanic population would make it a leader in the effort.

A spokesman of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce welcomed the effort Monday, but also offered a caution as the campaign moves forward.

“During the housing boom, a lot of predatory loans were offered to Hispanics who couldn’t possibly pay them back,” said James Garcia, the spokesman. “With the housing collapse, a lot of Hispanics were disproportionately targeted.”

Garcia said the plan offers an opportunity for Hispanics to send a message.

“If there is to be a rebound, we need to be careful,” he said. “It is important for Hispanic America to tell corporate America that we’re becoming more and more a part of their customer base, and that we expect to be treated the same as everyone else.”

Acosta expects the plan to be ready by October, at which time the association will seek commitments of support from corporations and financial institutions.

“It is a marathon, not a sprint. This effort is not finite,” Acosta said. “As long as there are Hispanics in America this project with continue.”