An agency struggling to cope with the surge of government-assisted Syrian refugees arriving in Ottawa has asked for — and received — a pause to let them find suitable housing for families already here.

The Catholic Centre for Immigrants, the agency overseeing the arrival of government-assisted Syrian refugees in Ottawa, reported that all 450 temporary housing spots were full, since many of the families have not yet been able to secure permanent housing.

The executive director of the agency, Carl Nicholson, said he expects the pause to last a week, though he's still negotiating details with federal officials. Nicholson said some of the refugees are currently in transit and the agency doesn't want to interrupt the government's plans.

Carl Nicholson

Carl Nicholson is the executive director of Ottawa's Catholic Centre for Immigrants. (CBC)

The pause applies only to government-assisted refugees and does not affect refugees sponsored entirely by private groups.

Ottawa expects to welcome about 1,200 Syrians by the end of February. So far, about 500 have arrived.

Housing shortage part of bigger problem

The director of Refugee 613, an Ottawa umbrella group that helps co-ordinate resettlement efforts, emphasized that private groups have not asked to slow down the arrival of refugees.

"We are supporting the Catholic Centre for Immigrants' request but it's not indicative of a problem across the board," Louisa Taylor said.

Nicholson said many factors have made the task of housing government-assisted refugees more difficult, including the larger-than expected size of some families that have arrived, creating a mismatch with available housing.

Also complicating resettlement efforts is the city's centralized waiting list for affordable housing, which stands at 10,000 requests with an estimated wait of five years.

Mike Bulthuis, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Ottawa, has also been working as a co-convenor of the task force Refugee 613 Housing. He said the task force has been working hard to utilize existing units that could be converted into an affordable housing.

"How do we reach landlords, property managers, residents with empty basement apartments?" said Bulthuis. "How do we make these units available at affordable rates?"

Refugee 613 and the Catholic Centre for Immigrants are preparing to launch a website where property owners hoping to connect with someone in need of affordable housing can list their available units.