Finding housing for new refugees could pose problem: Manitoba agency

The head of a non-profit agency that helps newcomers find a place to live says it's wonderful Manitoba will be taking in more refugees — but finding homes for them will be a challenge.

Province set to welcome additional 2,000 refugees by end of year

Young refugees participate in a program in Winnipeg. The head of an agency that helps newcomers find housing worries that there won't be homes for an influx of refugees. (Chris Glover/CBC)

The head of a non-profit agency that helps newcomers find a place to live says it's wonderful Manitoba will be taking in more refugees — but finding homes for them will be a challenge.

Sally Nelson is the interim executive director of New Journey Housing, which helps newcomers find affordable housing. It also educates them on how to be a good tenant and their rights and responsibilities. Newcomers include refugees, immigrants, international students and foreign workers.

Manitoba is pretty well-organized when it comes to settlement services, Nelson said.

Sally Nelson, interim executive director of New Journey Housing, says she is concerned about whether there'll be enough affordable housing for refugees coming to Manitoba. (Submitted by Sally Nelson)
"I think we do a great job, but I am very concerned about housing, especially if these refugees come very quickly in a large group. Then I am very concerned with the initial housing and where the ongoing affordable housing is going to be for them," she said.

The rental vacancy rate in Winnipeg for affordable housing is extremely low, Nelson said. Refugees with low incomes end up in substandard housing or spend a high percentage of their family budget on rent, she said.

That puts families at risk, Nelson said.

"If they are paying a good chunk of their money for rent, they are going to have less for food, child care and transportation," she said. "The truth is that housing is already tight for the low income, so this is only going to stretch the system more."

Nelson said she hasn't heard enough about clear planning and preparation for housing the new refugees, and she wants those in the housing sector to meet as soon as possible to map out a strategy. 

Selinger admits 'housing will be a challenge'

Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday that preparations to settle refugees in Manitoba are already underway.

"All the non-proft organizations are meeting with government. We're going to have a full-time co-ordinator within government to work with the community organizations, which will also have their own full-time co-ordinator," he said. "We want to make sure people get access to jobs, schools, housing, social services. It's going to be a bit challenging depending on how fast people come."

The province will have to "look at all the options" when it comes to housing, Selinger said.

"I do anticipate that housing will be a challenge for sure, but we have a lot of resources, and we'll have to pull together and make sure that we do that," he said. "And not just in Winnipeg. We've got communities outside of Winnipeg that also will be able to take people and provide them with housing alternatives as well."


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