Bread-and-butter spice

New "telenovela" has mortgage-related subplots.

Posted: June 17, 2007

If you channel-surf, you've likely come across telenovelas on Spanish-language TV. They're prime-time dramas akin to English-language soap operas, but the story lines last only a few months and are filled with romance, intrigue, greed, and, most important, how to find the right mortgage.

OK, not all have mortgage-hunting plot lines. But that and the related topics of money management, credit, predatory lending, and foreclosure are being tackled on a new drama, Nuestro Barrio (Our Neighborhood), which is subtitled in English.

Nuestro Barrio began a 13-episode run June 1 on V-me, the first Spanish-language network available on digital subcarriers of public television stations in many cities, though the local PBS stations are not running it. The program also is being carried on the Dish satellite network, which is available here. It's expected to be run again in its entirety.

Data from the National Association of Realtors show that the Hispanic/Latino population of the United States rose from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000 - a 58 percent increase, compared with a 13 percent increase in the overall population. Between 2000 and 2004, the Hispanic/Latino population grew to more than 40 million, an additional 14 percent.

And Realtors and builders groups are making greater efforts to reach it.

The National Association of Home Builders keeps statistics on the Latino market, spokeswoman Liz Warin said, and published a book for members, Casa y Communidad: Latino Home and Neighborhood Design, edited by former HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and John Rosales.

Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, said his group's consumer handouts and a number of brochures are available in Spanish. "And one of our TV spots is in Spanish."

"In addition, we work with the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, notably in the HOPE [Home Ownership Participation for Everyone] Awards," which recognize efforts to increase minority home ownership.

Felix DeHerrera, chairman of the Hispanic real estate group, said he welcomed the television approach.

"Nuestro Barrio is an inventive and creative way to deliver important information about home ownership," he said, adding that the telenovela would give his members a "powerful tool that will help create an understanding among Latinos about the home-buying process."

Michelle Lewis, of the Northwest Counseling Center in Philadelphia, said that even when there is no language barrier, Latinos may face home-buying obstacles. "Even if the buyers come to us with an interpreter, there are specific terms related to real estate and financing that are difficult to translate and to convey."

Moreover, since grants to low- and moderate-income borrowers have been reduced, and portions of the income of some families cannot be documented, many have turned to nontraditional financing, she said. "We are counseling many families who have been rescued from foreclosure by state intervention, to help them get on more solid ground."

Even how to refer to this group of buyers is an issue. According to the Gonzales Group of Sugar Land, Texas, which advises the real estate and financial industries on multicultural markets, choosing one term over the other can mean taking a political, social, and even a generational stand.

"Stereotypically, those who call themselves Hispanic are more assimilated, conservative, and young, while those who choose the term Latino tend to be liberal, older, and sometimes radical," said Oscar Gonzales, principal in the group.

A recent tracking poll by Hispanic Trends Inc. wanted to put the question to rest and asked registered voters which term they preferred. The result: A majority preferred Hispanic.

Nuestro Barrio's goal is to inform, said Craig Nickerson, vice president of Freddie Mac, which funded the production. "Educating consumers about smart credit choices, helping them understand the importance of building and maintaining good credit, and demystifying the home-ownership process will empower them," he said.

Dilsey Davis, who produced and directed the show for the Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina, said it "strikes the perfect balance between drama and information, appealing to a young, vibrant immigrant population and crossing over to English-speaking consumers eager to learn more about Latino culture and community resources."

On the show, respected restaurant owner Manuel Diaz strives to strengthen family and community life despite conflict with nightclub owner Salvador De LaFuentes.

Esperanza and Miguel Sanchez's desire to have the American dream is not easily realized because of financial and health barriers. The family deals with acculturation issues with teenage daughter Christina. Gabriela, the oldest daughter, works at Manuel's Latin Grill to help the family, but has her own dream, including college.

Federico, Manuel's nephew, attempts to navigate a new life in the United States. He finds and loses the love of his life, Gabriela, then tries to regain her trust while fighting the temptations of sexy bartender Laura.

Meanwhile, Episode 1 dispels the myths of home ownership. Episode 2 tackles credit; Episode 3 explains predatory lending. Episodes 11-13 talk about foreclosure.

The connections between plot and educational material are usually seamless. For example: Dr. Maria Hayden's non-Latino husband, Frank, ditches her for a "blond beauty." As she gets her life back together, she talks with her children about home ownership.

"Let's say this cereal box is our home, and the cereal is money," she tells them. "When we make house payments, we're putting money into the box, our own property. That's equity."

Frank begins to question why he left Maria, but the prospect of home ownership has little to do with it. Maria, you see, has developed a friendship with Ramon. . . .


Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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