Early in his career, Ruiz started noticing that his Mexican clients in Los Angeles were renovating their newly built homes immediately after moving in. They were building walls around the property, creating the ubiquitous courtyards so familiar in the architecture of their heritage.
“They were ripping out carpeting and replacing it with tile,´ said Pagés Ruiz, “… because that is what they were accustomed to. That is what made them feel comfortable and at home. Where else can someone express their culture freely, but in their home?”
Pagés Ruiz, now based in Boulder, has worked with immigrant clients from a variety of countries and cultures: Sudanese, Vietnamese, Iranian Jews and Mexicans represent just a few.
After leaving Southern California when the 1980s recession struck, he landed in Lincoln, Nebraska, and started building affordable housing with a focus on the immigrant and minority markets there and in Omaha. Simultaneous projects in Sheridan, Wyoming, landed him in Boulder so that his commutes to projects in the different regions he was serving were six hours long instead of 12.
In order to make inroads with clients whose cultural roots were founded in very different traditions than his own, Pagés Ruiz broke bread with them in ethnic restaurants in their own neighborhoods, spreading plans across formica-topped tables and discussing which features were important to them and could be incorporated into residences that fit into established neighborhoods that reflected Anglo-American architectural styles.
“For Asians, having the gabled end of the roof facing the street is considered very rude. We solved that by building a hip roof that blunts the point,´ said Pagés Ruiz. “Problem solved – and it still fits into the neighborhood.
“The homeowners want their homes to fit in. They are very aware of resale value and they don’t want something that is so different that they can’t get a return on their investment. We make sure we hit the top notes so that their homes have those desired features.”
Many Muslim families want their toilets separate from the rest of the bathroom, in a “water closet,” he said, and insist that the toilet never face east toward Mecca.
According to “Immigrants and Housing Demand,” a 2012 report written by Natalia Siniavskaia, the United States can expect to see homeownership by immigrants to increase significantly.
“Assuming that net immigration of 1.2 million – the low end Census Bureau projection for 2010 – persists for 10 years,” wrote Siniavskaia, ” the model estimates that after 10 years new immigrants will account for close to 3.4 million U.S. households, occupy more than 2 million multifamily units and more than 1.2 million single-family homes, and account for more than 900,000 homeowners.”
While most immigrants are renters, more of them are striving to achieve their version of the American Dream by becoming homeowners. The Census Bureau predicts that half of the United States population will be comprised of immigrants and native minorities by 2050.
Factor that equation into the housing market and white picket fences may become a distant memory.
The trend works in reverse as well.
Pagés Ruiz has used what he’s learned about Anglo-American architectural preferences to create a new market: he’s developing properties in Ecuador for American and Canadian expatriates looking to build homes that reflect their cultural traditions in a new country that doesn’t completely understand them.
“These people are moving to Ecuador for more affordable retirements, and they can’t find homes that suit their tastes,´ said Pagés Ruiz. “As soon as they buy, they’re knocking out walls to create open living spaces and incorporate the kitchen into the rest of the house.
“The Ecuadorean builders just don’t get it.”