Refugees struggle during housing shortage
By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter
Recently, Vancouver took a five-day break from accepting any refugees.. At the moment, the current housing shortage is wreaking havoc across the Lower Mainland, and Syrian arrivals from months back are dealing with the situation.
Twenty-two government-assisted Syrian families began settling down in Abbotsford in February. Attempts to find housing has proven challenging as four of them have moved into their homes, but 18 families still remain in a local hotel.
In New Westminster, a 2012 poll found that just over 50 per cent of immigrants in the area found obtaining housing a significant problem. Now, with the refugee crisis, it can be presumed that the numbers have spiked since then.
“Since this time, the rental housing market, which is the preferred tenure type for new immigrants and refugees, has become tighter,” John Stark, New Westminster’s senior social planner explained to the New Westminster Record. “Compounding matters, new immigrant and refugee families tend to be larger [typically with five or more members], thus they often require housing with two or three bedrooms.”
With the booming immigration rate to high profile cities such as Vancouver, the pressing need for affordable housing is preventing anyone without an abundance of cash to lock in on the market.
According to Stark, housing vacancy rates as of last October were low with apartments at 0.9 per cent and two-bedroom spaces at 0.8 per cent, and three-bedroom spaces at 0.0 per cent.
“It was noted that the vacancy rate is at a historic low and there is a very limited supply of two- and three-bedroom units,” said a council report in a press release. “The lack of housing could create added stresses and would delay the settlement and integration process.”
In a recent news release, the province’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skill Training and Responsible for Labour stated their plans to take on the influx of refugee settlement efficiently and immediately. Five organizations, comprised of MOSAIC (Metro Vancouver), DIVERSEcity Community Resource Society (Fraser Valley), Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (Vancouver Island), Kelowna Community Resources Society (Thompson Okanagan), and Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society of Prince George (Cariboo) have been assigned a collective goal to settle and integrate incoming refugees within communities across BC.
Though these Refugee Response Teams will be expected to work tirelessly to provide a better life for newcomers, the housing market isn’t expected to release tension anytime soon. Many fingers point at welfare rates and the urgency for an increase.
Jenny Kwan, Vancouver-East NDP MP, spoke with CKNW AM 980 and commented on the matter: “I think we do need to look at that question to make sure that we can enhance our capacity.”
“[We need] to ensure that with the volume of people that are here that need this kind of support, that we have boots on the ground to get that work done.”