BILLERICA -- Patricia Ortiz and her husband Sebastian cut back on dining out, nights at the movies, and even opted for a civil wedding ceremony instead of a big church affair so they could afford to buy their $389,000 three-bedroom Colonial.
In doing so, the Panamanian natives helped lift the nation's slumping housing market.
With rising purchasing power, the nation's growing number of foreign-born residents are keeping the bottom from falling out. And amid slow demand from an aging and slow-growing native population, immigrants are fueling predictions of a rebound.
Assuming Congress doesn't impose further restrictions, immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- and their native-born children are forecast to provide the bulk of coming years' growth in home-buying demand, nudging the market back up and aiding the broader economy.
US household growth from 2005 through 2015 is projected to reach about 14.6 million -- about 2 million greater than in 1995-2005 -- primarily because of more immigrants, according to a recent analysis by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
"As we come out of this housing recession, immigrants will continue to have an ever-larger role," said Dowell Myers, a University of Southern California professor who studies immigrants' upward mobility. "If you were to stop immigration, it would be devastating, because it would eventually pull this huge chunk out of the housing market's foundation."
For immigrants who've left behind their families and cultures for a chance at a better life, home-buying is another risk worth taking. Patricia Ortiz and her husband took out an adjustable-rate mortgage last year in Billerica, figuring the risk of seeing their current $3,000 monthly payments rise is offset by the value of having a place they and their newborn daughter can call home.
"Once you take the jump, you find ways to make it work," said Ortiz, 31, a supervisor at a dental insurance provider and a naturalized citizen. "But it's always in the back of my mind that if I don't make it, I am going to have to pack up and go back to Panama. You kind of feel like you have to strive for everything you do."
Immigrants formed more than 40 percent of the new households the nation added from 2000 to 2005, up from a less than 30 percent share of net new households in the 1990s, and about 15 percent in the 1980s, the Harvard center found in its latest annual housing market study.