Volunteers find creative solution to house refugees in Coquitlam, B.C.

Volunteers in Coquitlam, B.C., are repairing derelict rental units to help house large refugee families.

Community group helping to repair derelict rental units to house large refugee families

Volunteers with the Tri-Cities Friends of Refugees group have been repairing derelict units in Coquitlam to help house large refugee families. (Tri-Cities Friends of Refugees/Facebook)

With communities across Metro Vancouver facing a housing crunch, in Coquitlam, B.C., — where many large refugee families are being resettled — volunteers are renovating derelict apartment units that would otherwise sit empty. 

A group called Tri-Cities Friends of Refugees has already repaired four units for families that were having a hard time finding affordable rental apartments.

"It's a really rough situation for many of these larger families trying to find a housing unit that would be able to accommodate a family of seven," said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

"We're having volunteers step up. Suppliers, community groups — they're coming out of the woodwork to help."

According to one of the group's posts on Facebook, two of the homes were empty townhouse units operated by a non-profit society that couldn't afford to fix the extensive damage.

"It really was a community effort to try to figure out how we try to repair these buildings and make them new again," said Stewart.

"They really are in many ways a new unit that doesn't have a long life ahead of it but it certainly fills a need that is incredibly urgent."

The homes are now occupied by two families — each of them widows with children who arrived in B.C. less than one year ago. 

"The happy smiles, the tears of joy, helping them unpack and get settled into their new homes that only a few months ago we didn't know existed was so incredibly heartwarming, it's difficult to express," Teri Towner wrote on Facebook. 

Stewart said the group plans to repair more units over the next few months.

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Bal Brach

@BalBrach

Bal Brach is an award-winning reporter at CBC News Vancouver. She has more than a decade of experience working in television, radio and online news across Canada. Bal's storytelling skills have earned her a Jack Webster Award. She is also the recipient of regional and national Radio Television Digital News Association awards. Bal can be reached at Bal.Brach@cbc.ca or on social media @BalBrach