Latino Studies Property Rights
Steven W. Bender
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0036


The Latina/o experience of property ownership in the United States during the last 150 years is one marked by loss and exclusion. Once beneficiaries of huge landholdings in the Southwest, conferred by Spanish and then Mexican governments, Latinas/Latinos were divested of those rancheros after the Mexican-American War through the perils of property law, greedy lawyers, squatters, climate, and other factors. Following this monumental loss of land and ongoing immigration, Latinas/Latinos were largely reconstituted in the United States as a migratory, land-poor working class. In rural settings, whether in colonia settlements along the Texas-Mexico border, or in farm worker housing, Latina/o workers face miserable housing conditions consistent with the low wages paid in these regions. In urban geographies, Latinas/Latinos are frequent victims of discrimination in rentals and are residents of similarly dilapidated and overcrowded housing. Whether as renters or homeowners, public zoning laws and private discriminatory covenants (since outlawed when based on racial exclusions) long constrained and segregated the housing choices of Latina/o residents, particularly the impoverished. For those Latinas/Latinos fortunate enough to attain homeownership, the recent subprime mortgage crisis delivered a crushing blow of foreclosure to many, as it became apparent that subprime loan originators had targeted Latina/o markets for their often-abusive home loan programs. Most of the scholarly work on Latina/o property focuses on the divestment of expansive rancho landholdings in the Southwest. Overall, much of the literature focuses on a specific geography and on the above Latina/o experience of property loss and exclusion. There is much scholarly work left to be conducted, particularly on the topic of how to ensure safe, affordable, and uncrowded housing to Latina/o working-class populations.

General Overviews

There is very sparse literature on the vast landscape and history of Latina/o housing and property ownership, because most of the literature focuses on particular geographies and time periods. Bender 2010 supplies the most comprehensive overview, connecting the land divestment of Latinas/Latinos in the Southwest to the current housing experience of foreclosure of subprime loans in Latina/o neighborhoods. Covering both rural and urban terrain, Bender 2010 concentrates on a wide variety of geographies, from the Southwest, where land grant disputes persist and rural settings include colonia housing settlements and farm worker housing, to the disparate urban geographies and Latina/o housing demographics of New York, East Los Angeles, and Miami.

  • Bender, Steven. Tierra y Libertad: Land, Liberty, and Latino Housing. New York: New York University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814791257.001.0001

    Organized into parts addressing the loss of Latina/o property holdings, particularly in the Southwest after the Mexican-American War, and the exclusion of Latinas/Latinos from secure housing through public law and private mechanisms, this book comprehensively reviews the Latina/o property experience as owners and renters. Details strategies addressing the related goals of lowering the cost of decent housing while raising Latina/o incomes.

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