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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 14, 200612:00 PM EST

Cuban-American working with City's Neighborhoods Department

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

If anyone can understand how far it is from Cuba to Jacksonville, it would have to be William Arce.

He was born in Cuba and was drafted into the army at age 16, interrupting his high school education. The mandatory draft made it impossible for Arce to come to America until he was 20 years old.

“The Castro regime held me up for four years,” said Arce.

After arriving in the states, he earned his GED and attended college, then bought his first home. The experience inspired him to get his real estate license. The homebuying process helped Arce realize his calling was to help minority homebuyers through the process from finding a realtor to signing a mortgage.

During his career in real estate, Arce became a mortgage consultant, wrote a real estate column for a Spanish-language newspaper and eventually created a Web site – – dedicated to educating and providing resources for Latino homebuyers in Spanish.

He caught the attention of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. and was invited to participate in an educational program designed to, as Arce put it, “Develop the next generation of Latino leaders in the housing industry.”

Today, Arce is in Jacksonville where he’s working as a CHCI HOGAR Fellow for the City’s Housing and Neighborhoods Department on a five-month out-placement assignment following five months of training at the CHCI.

“We received extensive training on the real estate industry and worked with national real estate leaders and officials from many federal housing agencies,” he said.

Arce said that many Latinos are coming to Jacksonville because of the attractive housing market here. The Hispanic population in North Florida is growing by 20 percent per year and more than 400 Hispanic families have purchased homes in Duval County so far this year.

“Compared to Miami, Tampa and Orlando, Jacksonville is still a very affordable community and it’s a booming construction market. What we need to do is attract good people and help them stay here. We want to protect their access to home ownership,” said Arce.

While here, Arce will work with Kerri Stewart, director of the Housing and Neighborhoods Department.

“In addition to helping our agency with an outreach to the Hispanic community, he is also working on policy issues that are for Duval County citizens at large,” said Stewart. “While he is helping us help the Latino community, he is also helping us formulate policy on anti-predatory lending practices and anti-foreclosure. We get so focused on building houses and getting people into houses. Predatory lenders are looking at the same group of people we’re helping. He’s not here to simply translate our programs and create a marketing strategy – which we needed – he is also adding a huge amount of value at a senior management level in helping us work with the not-for-profits, (Jacksonville Area) Legal Aid, city government and other agencies.”

One of Arce’s first projects is to develop a campaign called, “Don’t borrow trouble,” aimed at helping people avoid making mistakes when negotiating mortgage terms.

Arce said that he hopes his legacy is, “To create a network of bilingual real estate agents, mortgage bankers, real estate attorneys and even home inspectors who speak Spanish and can help people through the process.

“I want to create a program that will create a more educated consumer and provide counseling to help people become homeowners. Having access to bilingual services for Latinos can put people in a better position to negotiate. Language is the number-one barrier and we’re trying to eliminate that barrier.”

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