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How the Affordable Housing Crisis Is Impacting Refugee Families

We all want to build communities where refugees and immigrants are welcome. But how can we do that if they don’t even have a place to call home? The lack of affordable housing has created a challenge – but it’s one we can work together to tackle.

The U.S. is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis right now. Perhaps you’ve even experienced this yourself. If so, you’re not alone! For millions of families, the dream of homeownership feels hopelessly out of reach. College graduates beginning their careers face high rent prices that force them to live with four, maybe five roommates.

Across the country, more and more Americans are spending the majority of their income on rent. They are struggling to even find affordable housing. And houses are selling far out of a middle-class household’s price range.

Sadly, this lack of affordable housing is preventing newcomers, including low-income immigrants and refugees, from achieving a stable sense of home here in the United States.   

The Housing Crisis’ Impact on Refugees and Immigrants

When Daniel arrived as a refugee in the United States, sleeping with a roof over his head every night was a new experience. Finally, after living in refugee settlements and sleeping under plastic tarps for years, he now had an apartment of his own.

Like Daniel, many refugees come to the United States having not lived in a home of their own for years – or at all. They may come from U.S. military bases (in the case of Afghan evacuees), a refugee camp, or a cramped space shared with friends and family. Others were displaced more recently but lost their homes in terrifying circumstances as they fled violence or natural disasters.

Establishing a home in the United States is an important first step toward recovery after the loss of so much. Refugees have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and often their family. They have to rebuild their lives in the U.S. – and feeling at home in a new house or apartment paves the way for their future success. From getting a new job to enrolling in school and exercising hospitality for new friends and family…thriving begins with home.

But not having affordable housing can jeopardize that.

The Housing Situation in Chicagoland

In Chicago and the nearby suburbs, families face several big challenges when seeking to establish a home.

  • There is a decreasing number of affordable housing units available to low-income families.
  • Families are paying more than half of their income on rent and utilities each month (30% is considered affordable).
  • Combined, these factors make it harder for families to pay for other essentials, including healthy food and medical care.
  • As a result, families are at higher risk of eviction and homelessness – which is devastating for families.

Sadly, the COVID eviction moratorium, which ensured that renters did not lose their housing, put financial pressure on landlords. Their loss of income and subsequent debt have motivated them to sell properties to developers. New investors “flip” properties, renovating to increase the rental value, making the same apartment unaffordable to low-income renters.

Unfortunately, property sales have also led to a loss of relationships between landlords and organizations like World Relief. These relationships of trust are crucial. Refugees who are new to the U.S. often do not yet have jobs, credit scores, or even social security numbers. Because of that, many landlords feel that renting a refugee family is a big risk.

World Relief can facilitate relationships and vouch for refugee families, but when landlords sell to new developers, those relationships disappear.

Refugees need available, affordable housing that is fully furnished with basic household items. This is essential for helping new arrivals understand their rights and responsibilities as tenants while building financial literacy and stability. And you can help make that possible.

Together, We Can Respond

At World Relief, we have found that paying rent is an important part of the adjustment process for refugee families. In fact, it helps refugee families build credit, learn U.S. financial systems, and understand tenant rights and responsibilities. It also provides a relationship to a landlord and creates the experience of true ownership of their living environment.

But paying rent can become a heavy burden if it costs most of the income from minimum wage jobs.

You can help by covering the cost of an apartment deposit and the first month’s rent. This buys time for a recently-arrived refugee family to settle in. For them to find and start a new job. And for them to start finding their way through a new culture.

But we still need long-term solutions.

World Relief is calling upon our partners and supporters to join in addressing the housing crisis throughout Chicagoland. Together, we can find affordable apartments with landlords who will rent to refugees, we can provide rent assistance to subsidize the cost of housing, and all of our neighbors can join together to advocate for new affordable housing development and the preservation of existing affordable units.

Three approaches to the affordable housing issue:

1. Subsidizing the cost of rent for refugee families.

Through rental assistance, we discount the cost of an apartment for a refugee family. This makes an otherwise unaffordable unit affordable. Give now!

2. Creating community connections.

Did you know that one of the best ways you can help is by connecting World Relief to people you know in real estate and the housing sector? We need landlords, property managers, and organizations to work together. That’s how we develop new permanent housing options that are affordable!

Do you have connections in these priority areas?

  • Aurora
  • Bloomingdale
  • Carol Stream
  • Evanston
  • Glen Ellyn
  • Glendale Heights
  • Lombard
  • Montgomery
  • Morton Grove
  • Oswego
  • Rogers Park
  • Skokie
  • Villa Park
  • West Chicago
  • West Ridge
  • Wheaton

3. Advocating locally, state-wide, and nationally.

Lastly, you can impact your neighborhood and beyond! Join advocacy work to create affordable housing, provide rental assistance vouchers, and save homes. When we advocate to develop and save affordable housing units, we take a step toward long-term solutions to this national problem.

Creating Home by Leading the Change

It’s through community collaboration and coordination that we can brainstorm solutions and create innovative solutions! If you have a permanent housing connection, please email chicagolandhousing@wr.org. As a result, you will help connect refugees and immigrants to safe, affordable housing. And that will change lives forever.

Together, we can ensure that every refugee has a place to call home.

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