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A trip to Italy brings thought of family, home, and homeownership

A couple of years ago, when I was in Italy on vacation, I decided to visit my maternal grandparents' village - Reino in Benevento province.

A couple of years ago, when I was in Italy on vacation, I decided to visit my maternal grandparents' village - Reino in Benevento province.

It was not an easy trip, but no one from the family had been there for a century, and I am not getting any younger.

I had already visited Frocester, in Gloucestershire, England, from which my paternal great-grandfather hailed, so it was an equal-time issue.

Arriving in Benevento city by train from Rome, I learned there was no regular bus service, so I haggled with a taxi driver for a round-trip ride - 126 euro - but it was worth it just to watch him cross himself when we passed the village on the road to Reino where Padre Pio was born.

My grandfather was a farmer and carpenter - the latter skill he brought with him to America.

Reinesi, as we call ourselves, began arriving in Waterbury, Conn., beginning in 1876, and when he landed here in 1903, he had the same safety net that most immigrants had then and have today.

A cousin hired him to help build houses. Within a couple of years, my grandfather built his own and others on land he now was able to buy.

He, and others, did not plan to stay - in fact, he went home every year because my grandmother and aunt were still working the farm, but the property in America was far more valuable, so, in 1913, they came here for good.

Il sogno americano - the American dream.

My grandfather's experience came to mind when I read a study showing the homeownership rate for foreign-born U.S. residents is slowly gaining ground against that of domestic-born residents.

States in which immigrants have resided in the United States for longer periods of time boast higher rates of immigrant homeownership, reported the study by the search engine Trulia.

Homeownership is still considered to be an indicator of household prosperity and economic growth, despite the problems associated with the bursting of the housing bubble and the economic collapse.

In 2009, National Association of Home Builders economist Paul Emrath found that new home-buying spurs employment and related economic activity that benefits communities.

Robert M. Couch of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University said households able to convert rent into "a tax-protected asset through amortizing long-term debt have a powerful tool for accumulating wealth."

The gap in homeownership rates between native-born U.S. residents and foreign-born immigrants has been cut to 15.4 percentage points from 20.7 percentage points in 2001.

Before 9/11, the housing industry was looking at immigrants as a major source of future growth, although for a brief time afterward, it looked as if restrictions on newcomers might stem the flow.

They did not, apparently.

How long immigrants have lived in the country has a big influence on whether they own a home, due to the need today of a credit history.

Banks 100 years ago were not loose with mortgage money, so grandfathers - immigrant and native - needed to save to buy property or borrow from better-off kinfolk.

That my grandfather kept returning to Reino seems to mean that he really wanted to stay there.

When I visited, I carried a small photo of him and my grandmother to show to the people I'd meet in Reino, since they do have the names of my grandparents' families and those with whom I grew up in Waterbury.

Before I left, I buried it in the garden near the statue of Padre Pio on Reino's main square.

They have come home.

215-854-2472 @alheavens