Syrian refugees about to face housing crunch in Calgary

Refugee workers in Calgary say they can not accommodate Syrian families of more than six people, as there just isn't the housing.

Most Syrian refugees are being housed at a Calgary hotel because they can't find housing

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum, left, meets with Calgary Catholic Immigration Society CEO Fariborz Birjandian, right, at the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The man leading the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Calgary is telling the federal government to stop sending families of more than six people because it's getting difficult to find housing.

It comes as Ottawa and Vancouver announced they will temporarily halt the flow of government-sponsored refugees because of a lack of housing.

Fariborz Birjandian, with Calgary Catholic Immigration Services (CCIS), says Calgary is about to enter a similar housing crunch, and already cannot accommodate any more big families.

Roughly 50 Syrian refugees are currently living at MCRC in N.E. Calgary waiting for permanent housing. Another 138 are at a hotel. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"That was the only request from the community for the federal government to address the housing before bringing people here," he said. "They ignored it somehow, and now suddenly they send us a family of 10. I just don't understand."

Birjandian says they can find housing for smaller families of four to six people, but anything bigger becomes too expensive.

"I have a family of 10 stuck because we can't find them accommodation. We could find housing with four bedrooms and a basement available, but they are very out of range for these people."

Birjandian says the problem is two-fold: there aren't that many rental units that allow such big families and the money that Ottawa provides refugees isn't enough to cover anything bigger.

A family of four receives about $800 a month for housing, but they typically use other government money they receive to support a housing budget of $1,000/month.

Cassandra Osborn found out first-hand just how hard it is to find housing for Syrian refugees in Calgary who are on a limited budget. (Mike Symington/CBC)

There are currently 191 Syrian refugees in the city waiting for permanent accommodation: 138 are at a hotel and 53 at the CCIS resettlement home.

Another 101 people have moved into permanent housing over the past month.

Cassandra Osborn now knows how hard it is to rent a home on a fixed budget. The 40-year-old is part of a group of Calgary friends who are sponsoring a Syrian family of five set to arrive any day.

Osborn's job was to find the housing and it wasn't easy.

She scoured the online rental websites.

"The majority of people wouldn't respond to me. Some of them said it's been rented, which was funny given that their ads stayed up there."

Then she contacted the two big landlords in the city that have offered discounted rent for the refugees — Boardwalk Rental Communities and Mainstreet Equity Corp. — and was told her family of five would need three bedrooms, which put rent out of their range.

Osborn says they eventually found a sympathetic family that agreed to rent out the basement of a house at a discounted rate to meet their $1000/month budget.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.