"I have people calling me every day asking for workers," says Alfonso Cornejo, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati. According to data from the American Community Survey, Cincinnati is one of the three cheapest cities for renters in the nation.
Cincinnati, Ohio, along with Toledo, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Indiana are large cities cheap for renters. Rent in Toledo averages $643; in Cincinnati, rent averages $649; and Fort Wayne has an average rent of $670. Compared to New York (where rent averages $1255) or Los Angeles ($1209), the “Rust Belt” cities are significantly cheaper. Additionally, these cities offer many opportunities in terms of work and housing availability, a significant advantage for new immigrants and young Latinos. However, not many hispanics live in these cities.
Why do more Latinos not live in these large cities with low rent? CityLab spoke with members of the Hispanic community in these locations to understand the pros and cons of living in the Rust Belt.
|City||Average rent||% of pop that rents||% of latinos|
|Fort Wayne, Indiana||$670||37.40%||8.20%|
|Buffalo, New York||$699||58%||10.80%|
Pro: low cost housing
As we have stated previously, these three cities are accessible to renters. Additionally, access to entertainment -movies, restaurants, festivals- does not require much money. Fort Wayne and Toledo have been listed as some of the most affordable cities in America time after time. “One can enjoy the city on a low salary,” says Lisa Canales, member of the Board of Education and resident in Toledo.
Con: public transport
Public transportation in these cities leaves much to be desired, especially for people who have industrial jobs. Travelling by car is the main mode of transportation in these cities, and those who do not own one have difficulty moving around. “There are no transport options for people who work in the manufacturing industry,” says Tiffany Bailey of the Fort Wayne United Way charity.
This is especially complicated for those who work night shifts because public transportation is not available 24 hours a day, as it is in other cities. This can be very difficult for undocumented immigrants these days, as my colleague Tanvi Misra has previously explained: driving without a license is increasingly risky, especially in non-sanctuary cities where officials collaborate with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
None of these cities has much more than a bus system or a tram. According to data compiled from the National Transportation Database (NTD) by FiveThirtyEight, the three cities have transportation systems whose quality is well below the national average. Comparing 290 major US cities the Cincinnati SORTA, Tank, and Clermont Transportation Connection systems were ranked 117th, The Toledo Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) was ranked at 203rd and Citilink in Fort Wayne was ranked 213th.
Pro: easy to become homeowner
For many Latinos, the American dream of owning a home is still elusive. Some recent studies have described this in other cities, such as Los Angeles. In 2010, it was found that Latinos represented almost 40% of all tenants in the United States (in other words, 66% of latinos are renters). But in these cities, there is a greater chance of becoming a homeowner. “It’s very easy to own a home in Fort Wayne if you have good credit,” says Bailey. By 2015, the average value for a home in Cincinnati was $119,700, in Fort Wayne the average home cost $100,700, and in Toledo the price of a home stood at a mere $78,000. In contrast, the average price of a home in New York is $494,800 and in Los Angeles a home will cost an average of $471,000.
“Latinos are now buying houses in areas previously inhabited by large white populations. The Latinos are revitalizing these areas,” says Anita Lopez, the county comptroller in Toledo.
Con/pro?: you may not agree with the politics
Although you may be able to easily own a home in these cities, none are the liberal enclaves that are Los Angeles and New York. “People come to Toledo because of conservative moral values and the availability of work for immigrants,” says Lopez.
Similarly, the other Rust Belt cities are not liberal. “Cincinnati is the most conservative city in Ohio,” says Cornejo. This is significant as these states made up the majority of Trump’s voter-base. Ohio voted for Barack Obama in 2012 but in 2016 its 18 electoral votes went to Donald Trump.
Pro: job opportunities
For those who do not mind living in Trump territory, there will not be much trouble finding jobs. “Cincinnati has a very low unemployment rate at only 3.9%,” says Cornejo. “We’re lucky because we have a relatively high percentage of Hispanic college graduates. We have a larger percentage of professionals when compared to other cities because big companies have brought many workers with them. We have General Motors, General Electric, Toyota, Johnson & Johnson, and all these companies have brought foreign human capital. We have many opportunities for work and everyone is looking for Hispanics. Everyone.”
Procter & Gamble, GE Aviation, Mitsubishi US and AK Steel are all headquartered in Cincinnati where many of the city’s 14,000 industrial workers find their jobs. In May 2017, the unemployment rate in Fort Wayne, Indiana was a mere 2.6%; in Toledo, the unemployment rate stood at 5.3%, slightly higher than a national average of 4.4%. However, Lopez says, “People come to Toledo because there will always be work for them.”
Con: nativism and possible discrimination
The vast employment opportunities in these cities attract immigrants, and, although each of these cities has depended on the Latino workforce, not all have received the Latino community with open arms.
“In Cincinnati, we still have a problem with the harassment of children who appear Hispanic. Why? Because we have people with strong nativist ideologies who have educated the community to be in opposition to immigrants,” says Cornejo. Programs have been made to combat this but the problem runs deep. In Ohio, only 0.7% of teachers are Latino, while the national average is 7.8%.
On the other hand, the mayor of Cincinnati has declared his city a sanctuary for immigrants, but this definition can often be complicated. Sometimes the city may partially collaborate with the immigration authorities or the county may not follow the same rules as the city (there are people who question whether Cincinnati really is a sanctuary city). Toledo asserts itself as a city welcome to immigrants (not a sanctuary city). Fort Wayne, in contrast, has no intention of promoting this status. Cornejo says that pro-immigrant policies face many challenges in the region. “Part of our job is to try and teach the community that we are the solution to their problems, not the cause,” he says.
Con: few latinos
These cities have very few Latinos. Spanish is not spoken much and that, along with other factors, can make it very difficult for people to feel at home. In Cincinnati, latinos make up only 3.2% of the population; in Fort Wayne, Latinos make up 8.2% of the population; and in Toledo Latinos represent 7.8% of the population. In contrast, Latinos make up 17% of the nation’s population, 28.9% of New York’s population and 48.7% of Los Angeles’ population. This can contribute to feeling isolated in heterogeneous cities.
Pro: tight-knit latino community
However, Latinos living in these cities say that the Hispanic communities art strong. "Although there are differences between generations, I feel we are more united than in other cities," says Canales, about Toledo. Cornejo says something similar: "Since we are very few and we live in a conservative city, compared to those who surround it, we still have more challenges. But that is also why we are relatively united. "
This article was originally published by our partners at City Laby Latino. Read it here in Spanish.