Abu Yasar

Housing for refugee families difficult to find

A local housing developer has stepped up to provide housing for a privately-sponsored Syrian refugee family, but more housing is needed

A local housing developer has stepped up to provide housing for a privately-sponsored Syrian refugee family, but more housing is still needed to help incoming refugees.

Abstract Developments is providing housing for a family of five —  a father, mother, two elementary-aged children and one middle school-aged child from Turkey that will be arriving Wednesday (today).

The family is being privately-sponsored by the History Refugee Committee, a group of 20 community members, who are hoping to bring more than one family to Victoria.

Kim Walker, a volunteer with the group, had been searching for housing for the past two weeks after finding out suddenly the family will be coming to Victoria.

Hoping to find housing close to essential services such as grocery stores, language services and the mosque, the group searched for housing on Quadra Street near Crystal Pool. However, finding affordable housing in a city with a low vacancy rate proved to be a difficult task.

“We’re looking for housing that they can afford in their second year,” said Walker, adding the group isn’t allowed to support the family financially after the second year.

“Here are people who haven’t had stability, who have had to flee their country where they have been living in pretty unspeakable conditions.”

Walker sent out dozens of emails to rental companies, but heard nothing back. That’s when she turned to the Internet, and found an apartment listed on Craigslist in the North Park neighbourhood on Queens Avenue.

After contacting Abstract, the company agreed to provide a discounted rent rate for the family.

“What this does is lets somebody move into a basically brand new building with all these amenities and all these things that they require that we take for granted,” said Mike Miller, president and founder of Abstract.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a refreshing change for them. It’s such a small thing in the big picture.”

The home is part of an eight-unit character conversion rental building, completed in 2013. The family will be living in a roughly 1,300-squarefoot unit with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a den, complete with full appliances, parking and a skylight.

“It’s a God-send — the help that Abstract is giving with the rent to make it affordable,” said Elizabeth Vibert, co-chair of the group, adding they have budgeted $1,500 for rent in the first year.

The family will move into the building on April 1.

But other constituency groups haven’t been so lucky when it comes to finding homes for refugee families.

According to Walker, who attended a meeting with other groups privately-sponsoring Syrian refugee families, many groups are having difficulty finding housing.

Jean McRae, executive director at the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, said they’ve had a number of housing leads in Victoria and 10 in Duncan, but are unable to secure leases until refugees begin arriving and the association can see the family configuration.

Earlier this month, the association announced 290 government-sponsored refugees will be coming to Greater Victoria by the end of February.

The refugees will be put in temporary housing — usually hotels — for two weeks, before transitioning into permanent housing.

However, in Vancouver, some families have been in hotels for a month because associations are unable to find housing — a problem McRae expects will occur in Victoria as well.

“I think mostly we’ll be dependant on the private market,” said McRae, adding refugees will likely begin arriving this week. “I’m sure that we’re going to have some people stay longer (in hotels) than they’d like them to and longer than we’d like them to . . . It’s just about finding places and that really is the factor. We need to have as many leads as we can to follow up and match people to.”

She added housing tends to open up at the beginning of the month, once people have moved out.

Anyone who can provide housing can contact the association at icavictoria.org under “Help Refugees.”