Cramped quarters common for immigrants
By Liz Mineo/ Daily News Staff
Sunday, August 6, 2006

For newly arrived immigrants, living in an overcrowded house and sharing a bathroom with four or more people is a rite of passage.

"When you come here, you don't have too much money, you don't know if you're going to get a job," said a Brazilian immigrant who lives with five other people in a three-bedroom house in downtown Framingham for $300 a month. "Almost everybody who is a recent immigrant does it because it's the only thing we can afford."

Overcrowding among the town's immigrant population has raised concerns in Framingham with a recent increase in the number of tuberculosis cases. In Milford, officials started cracking down on landlords who were renting to as many as 20 people at the same time.

Many immigrants don't seem to be concerned about overcrowding and its possible health risks. Of several Brazilian immigrants asked if they worry about infectious diseases, none expressed concern.

Cheap rent overshadows any health concerns they may have since many recent immigrants struggle to make ends meet. Many rent rooms for $300 or $500 a month, but some pay less if they share a room with others. There are cases of four people sharing a room, with each person having a mattress in each corner of the room. The fact that many of them work two or three jobs and spend little time at home helps make those living arrangements more bearable, they said.

Among those who rent the rooms, the motivation is financial, but also cultural.

Such is the case for a 32-year-old Brazilian man who owns a two-family house and rents the top floor to a family of five and two rooms on the first floor, one to a couple and the other one to a young man.

"I don't like to live alone," said the man, who didn't want to be identified. "When I come home from work, there are always people and fresh coffee. They also help me pay the mortgage."

Real estate agents have noticed the trend among immigrants who are buying houses to rent rooms as way to help pay the mortgage. Argentina Arias, who deals mostly with Brazilian and Hispanic clients, said she takes the time to explain to the new homeowners the existing regulations, the zoning bylaws and safety risks because many of them don't know them.

"I tell my clients this is a family house, not a rooming house," said Arias. "And if they're thinking about building an extra room in the top floor, or installing a bathroom and a kitchen in the basement, I tell them they have to make sure they follow the zoning bylaws and that they have to get permits."

With all the talk about overcrowding and infectious diseases on the rise, immigrants find fewer reasons to worry because the influx of immigrants seems to have slowed down.

"There aren't too many people coming," said Alfredo, a Brazilian man who owns a two-family house and has four tenants. "In the past, you could find 15 or 20 people in one house. And many people who did that in the past, now own their own houses."

A few years ago, Alfredo said, he heard of a Brazilian who slept in the bathtub of a house for less than $200 a month.

"That's not the case anymore."