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Syrian refugee family turned down by at least 17 Hamilton landlords

Hamilton is getting $250,000 from a national fund from charities and corporations to help Syrian refugee families with their rent. It can't come too soon for families keen to settle in apartments and homes.

A new federal fund will help Syrian refugee families in Hamilton get and keep housing

Radwan Baranbo is happy to be in Hamilton. But he's been staying in a hotel room for nearly two months, eating restaurant food and crowding in with his parents and two sisters. He needs to get out.

So until he gets a place of his own, living in Canada is a somewhat frustrating experience.

The 30-year-old is one of 988 Syrian refugees who arrived in Hamilton this year. He has a degree in business management. His whole family is university educated. One sister has a masters degree in physics.

He attended a media event on Monday where a private fund called the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees gave Wesley Urban Ministries $250,000 to help refugees find and stay in affordable housing. For him and others, it was welcome news.

Living in a hotel "is nice," Baranbo said. But even as he kept smiling, his face showed the strain. 

Sometimes it's 10 in a room. We eat at restaurants. No cooking. We're just looking for housing. It's bad.- Radwan Baranbo, on looking for housing in Hamilton

"It's cramped and boring," he said in broken English. "Sometimes it's 10 in a room. We eat at restaurants. No cooking. 

"We're just looking for housing. It's bad."

Baranbo's situation isn't unique. Canada has welcomed more than 25,000 Syrian refugees since late last year. In Hamilton, Wesley Urban Ministries is the lead agency for government-assisted refugees. From the beginning, housing has been a challenge.

Hamilton has a shortage of affordable housing. Its social housing wait list sits at about 5,700 households. Its rental vacancy rate was 3.4 per cent in 2015, while rents increased 3.8 per cent. 

Refugee families have come from other areas in search for affordable housing too. Earlier this year, an estimated 150 refugees from Toronto migrated to Hamilton, partly because rents are cheaper here.

Siblings Abdulmomen and Ektimal Alkabori arrived in Hamilton in February and are still looking for an affordable place to live. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Daljit Garry, Wesley Urban Ministries executive director, says housing has been a challenge. Nearly all have found housing now. There are 130 refugees who have signed leases in hand and are waiting to move in. Three families are still homeless.

Most people have found housing

The money announced on Monday will help, Garry said. Wesley will use it to help refugees with their rent, and also offer emergency funding to keep families in their homes and prevent evictions.

When we move, we're going to start to live in the community. For now, we're still thinking about all the steps.- Ektimal Aklabori, Syrian refugee looking for housing in Hamilton

"Even though we have been fairly successful (finding housing), I would say that housing affordability remains a challenge," she said. "So this will help around that."

Community Foundations of Canada and the Hamilton Community Foundation are providing the money from the fund, which was seeded by Manulife and augmented by CN and General Motors.

That will be good news for Baranbo. But first, he must join the ranks of the adequately housed. He's anxious.

He's looked at 17 houses and submitted applications. For 10, he got no answer. One landlord told him he wouldn't rent to refugees. Another changed the cost of the rent when Baranbo went to sign the lease.

Turned down a marriage proposal to come here

Ektimal and Abdulmomen Aklabori feel that pain too. The siblings, aged 29 and 22, are living in Wesley's Welcome Centre on Catharine Street. They get $1,300 per month, Ekitmal said. At all three places they've looked at, the rent has been at least $1,000.

"For sure, we have a lot of stress because we're still waiting," she said through an interpreter. "When we move, we're going to start to live in the community. For now, we're still thinking about all the steps."

The Alkaboris arrived in Canada in February. Their 72-year-old father is still in Jordan as his application is processed by a different department. He's staying with a sister-in-law who has four children. Two have damaged hearing and vision from the violence in Syria.

Ektimal Alkabori turned down a marriage proposal in Jordan so she could come to Canada. So she's hopeful.

"I chose to come to Canada because I want to settle down here and have a better future," she said.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

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