Syrian refugee sponsors search for appropriate housing in Waterloo region

A group sponsoring a Syrian family is in the house-hunting stage in Kitchener-Waterloo — a tricky proposition for several reasons including the fact it's not clear when the family of seven will arrive.

'It's hard to ask a landlord to hold a place for an unknown amount of time,' Karen Scian says

Young Syrian refugees gather around Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum, second from left, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Health Minister Jane Philpott, right, as they tour the Zaatari Refugee Camp, near the city of Mafraq, Jordan, on Sunday. Sponsors in Kitchener-Waterloo are seeking large, affordable apartments near the services refugee families will need. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
A group sponsoring a Syrian family is in the house-hunting stage in Waterloo region — a tricky proposition for several reasons including that it's not clear when the family of seven will arrive.
Karen Scian was a ward councillor for Waterloo from 2006 - 2014. (City of Waterloo)

"It's hard to ask a landlord to hold a place for an unknown amount of time," said Karen Scian, a former Waterloo councillor who is sponsoring the family along with five others including the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo.

Scian told CBC Radio's Craig Norris on The Morning Edition that the furniture and clothing needed for the mother, father, four kids and grandmother is ready, and now the focus is on accommodations. She expects the sponsors will have a 24- to 48-hour window between knowing the family members are on their way and their actual arrival.

Housing is the biggest challenge facing sponsors, she says.

The family can't be placed just anywhere. Scian says they want to provide a place that the family will want to stay in indefinitely, which means it needs to be:

  • An apartment or townhouse large enough for seven, including a grandmother who should have her own room. Scian says that's a typical family size for those coming from Syria.
  • Affordable, so that they can choose to stay there once the one-year sponsorship is over. Their budget is in the $1,300-$1,400 a month range.
  • Near schools, community centres and services.
  • Preferably near some Arabic speakers.

Despite the big asks, Scian said there's a good understanding of what's needed from the community.

'A traumatic experience'

Her group has three or four accommodations on a shortlist and will made a snap decision when they know the family is coming. 

Building a community that is welcoming and comfortable will make it more likely for the family to stay in the region, she said.

"They've gone through a traumatic experience, and we know for a fact that our mom needs medical help and the children need trauma counselling," she said. "Our goal is to build a home."

The other people in her sponsoring group include:

  • Scian's sister Nicole Coviello, who is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
  • Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky.
  • Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.
  • Dan Herman, executive director of the Centre for Digital Entrepreneurship and Economic Performance.
  • Marcus Shantz, president of Mercedes Corp., which owns the St. Jacobs Market.


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