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How housing (un)affordability in Vancouver is hitting one of the most vulnerable groups: refugees

It is very likely you’ve felt the crunch of Vancouver’s soaring rental prices. This year, the westcoast city was named the world’s second most expensive to live in, according to the 15th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, which rates urban middle-income housing affordability across the globe.

Imagine trying to find an affordable living situation in this market. Now, imagine navigating this situation with the added challenge of being a refugee. You’ve been displaced from your home, perhaps you’ve experienced trauma, and now you’re looking to build a new life in a climate where the odds seem stacked against just about everyone.

Like anyone in search of housing, the lack of knowing where you’ll be in two weeks’ time is unnerving to say the least. In 2016, Canada stepped up to support refugees following the crisis in Syria, and Syrians made up 71% of all new refugee arrivals in Canada that year. For these newcomers, their arrival in Canada came after an extended period of uncertainty, oftentimes after months or years spent in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan, and having had to flee their homes as a result of the civil war.

Part of their hopes for their new life in Canada, of course includes a safe and secure place to call home.

Government-Assisted Refugee families are provided temporary housing in hostels or hotels upon arrival until they find more permanent housing, but for newly arrived refugees, housing is just one of the several immediate that needs to be addressed.
 
While finding housing is undeniably important, refugees list finding employment and learning English as their top concerns – with social isolation and finding affordable housing tailing close behind. Housing, in accessible neighbourhoods, is an important foundation for a new life.

Family size and lack of credit and references make it difficult to enter the rental market. With occupancy rates as low at 0.8% in Vancouver, competition in the rental market is high.

In recent years, family units made up most of the refugee arrivals under the Government-Assisted Refugee Program, families that may be bigger than the average Canadian family, with a wider set of needs. On average, refugee families arrive with 6 members. 47% of Canada’s newest citizens arrive before they reach 12 years of age.

Landlords can set maximum occupants for a property but legally can’t deny housing because of children. But with a larger-than-average family, combined with no credit, and lack of references, settlement agencies are seeing instances where refugee families are being overlooked as viable tenants.

High cost of housing leaves little left for other needs. Government-Assisted Refugees receive crucial financial assistance in their first year in Canada. A refugee family comprising two adults and three children receives $785-885 a month for housing, and $649 a month for basic needs, for a total of $1399-$1499. There is also the Canada Child Benefit with payments available for lower-income families with children. But according to the Vancouver Sun, average rental prices in Vancouver have hit an all-time high of $2,100 for a one-bedroom apartment.

To secure housing, most will need to spend beyond the specified housing limit during the first year of benefits and then upwards of 51%, 75% and sometimes more of their total income afterwards. Families are needing to dip into incomes intended to support groceries, school supplies and more. Often they need to move to more affordable neighbourhoods further away from transit, work, and support services.
 
How can we improve refugees’ access to affordable housing?

As opposed to Government-sponsored refugees, those that are privately sponsored arrive with a support network. Canada’s private sponsorship program is gaining interest from other countries around the world. In this unique program, refugees are sponsored by a group of Canadians who are committed to providing financial and holistic support for new arrivals over a one-year period.

PeaceGeeks’ new app Arrival Advisor wants to bring refugee support services right to newcomers’ phones, in their language. PeaceGeeks’ technology and development geeks have been working to create a brand new platform for refugees and immigrants arriving in British Columbia with all the information for their settlement housed in one handy and free mobile app.

Arrival Advisor is there for new arrivals, to connect them with the tools and information they need at different stages of their resettlement journey.

While finding a home can be difficult in a city like Vancouver, Arrival Advisor is there to give newcomers a head start.

This article was written by Amelia Mitchell, contributing writer and PeaceGeeks volunteer.

Mar 11, 2019
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