Refugee housing: Where will they live in Ottawa?

As the city of Ottawa prepares for the arrival of hundreds of Syrian refugees one of the most pressing issues is where to house them all.

Ottawa agencies, sponsorship groups scramble to find hundreds of Syrian refugees a place to call home

Ottawa is preparing for the arrival of refugees. One of the most pressing issues is where to house them all. 3:19

Like many young women searching for an apartment, Jennifer Graham has a list of demands: it has to be affordable, close to amenities and in a nice area.

But this apartment isn't for her. She's house hunting for a refugee family.

Graham is part of the Ottawa South Committee for Refugee Sponsorship. Like many such groups across the city, hers is scrambling to figure out where the refugee family it's sponsoring will live once the plane lands.

"First and foremost we want affordable housing. We`re looking for a multicultural neighbourhood, and that is close to amenities that they need like transit, groceries, schools, parks for the kids," Graham said.

Jennifer Graham walks by a for rent sign in Ottawa. She's trying to find a home for a refugee family. (CBC)

As the city of Ottawa prepares for the arrival of Syrian refugees one of the most pressing issues is where to house them all.

The federal government's goal is to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February 2016, some through private sponsorship and others through government assistance.

Housing needed for as many as 2,000

It's still unclear how many government-sponsored refugees will come to live in the capital. As of Nov. 24, 127 privately-sponsored refugees were destined for Ottawa, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said last month the city could eventually welcome as many as 2,000 from both classes.

Some refugee sponsors have already encountered the challenge of finding suitable housing.

When deacon Paul Soucie's church brought over a Syrian family in February the congregation struggled to find them a home. Without an income, the family couldn't sign a lease themselves. So Soucie and his wife signed it for them.

"What the expectation was is that we'd help them with the language, we'd help them with the job search. We'd help integrate them into the community so they'd understand our Canadian system and how it works and that they'd be able to continue on in that apartment and afford it," he said.

'People want to help'

There are currently 135,000 rental units in Ottawa, and a four per cent vacancy rate.

Vincent Detillieux, president of Saint Joseph Property Managementsays his company has 32 available units he could offer to refugees.

"The timing works out very well," he said. "There's a desire to want to help them, to provide housing to them that's affordable, but quality housing."

Detillieux's company works with about 10,000 landlords in the city, keeping track of them with the aid of a database. He says at least 200 of them are currently seeking tenants.

"I believe this landlord database could be used to find landlords who are willing to accept refugees in their rentals," Detillieux said. "People want to help."

Short-term housing also a challenge 

Finding short-term housing for refugees is also shaping up to be a challenge.

The bulk of government-sponsored refugees in Ottawa used to land at the Sophia Reception House on Boteler Street, run by the Catholic Centre for Immigrants.

Sophia House offers 96 beds, but with hundreds — perhaps even thousands — of refugees expected to land in Ottawa the agency is now scrambling to find more intermediate housing.

See where some refugees will be living when they land in Ottawa. 2:47

The team at Sophia House helps newcomers find their bearings in their first few weeks in the city. The agency is responsible for helping refugees find permanent housing within a couple of weeks of a their arrival.

Heng Chau, the housing co-ordinator at Sophia House, said with the number expected to arrive, that could be a challenge.

What I'm worried about is the available housing will deteriorate and it will get harder and harder as time progresses.- Heng Chau, Sophia Reception House

"We have not received such a big number in such a short time," said Chau. "Initially for the first 100, it will not be that difficult, but what I'm worried about is the available housing will deteriorate and it will get harder and harder as time progresses."

Chau said people in Ottawa can wait years for an apartment to become available from Ottawa Community Housing, so newcomers usually rent a unit on the private market, which is more expensive.

"It will be very tough, but the family has to be very careful about how they spend their money. That's one thing we try to do is help the new family with their budget," said Chau.

Meanwhile Jennifer Graham and her sponsorship group think they may have found the place they've been hunting for. The apartment is in Vanier, and rent is about $1,000 dollars a month.

"I think what struck me about this place was how clean and warm and welcoming it was," said Graham. 

In other words, it feels like home.


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