Refugees need more homes – Albuquerque Journal

Zac, an Afghan refugee, moved to New Mexico with his family and settled down with the help of the placement assistance provided by Lutheran Family Services. Currently, there is a serious shortage of accommodation for refugees.
(Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Zac is one of the lucky ones.

The 32-year-old Afghan refugee – technically a “humanitarian parolee” – spent three months at US Army Fort McCoy in Wisconsin before being transferred to Albuquerque, where he and his family were able to settle in a apartment rented with assistance from Lutheran Family Services.

LFS currently makes almost all housing placements for refugees who come from a number of countries – but these placements are becoming increasingly difficult.

The huge demand and shortage of housing in Albuquerque has caused a severe housing shortage.

In addition, LFS is trying to help a large influx of Afghan refugees. Normally, over the course of a year, LFS would place around 100 refugees from various parts of the world. He is currently trying to accommodate around 100 per month, most of them from Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, Zac worked as a sales representative for a telecommunications company and as a financial analyst for a construction company before working as a translator for the US military forces there. When the US military left Afghanistan and the Taliban became the de facto government, Zac, his wife, and their 3-year-old daughter fled the country, expedited by a special immigrant visa.

Like many Afghan refugees, Zac is reluctant to use his full name or show his face in photographs due to uncertainty over the Taliban’s reach and fears of reprisals against family members still living in the country.

As he finds solace in the familiarity of Albuquerque’s desert landscape, which resembles much of his homeland, Zac said he was not completely comfortable in his southeast apartment. from the city.

Grateful to have a roof over his head, he said, there is no escaping the reality that the place where he lives “is not in a good neighborhood” .

Indeed, the neighborhood where Zac is housed is recognized by the police as having a high rate of crime, violence and drug addiction. Because of this, Zac said he had to turn down a job offer at a big box store that would have required him to work late at night and leave his wife and child alone.

“It was far away and I should have walked because I don’t have transportation,” he said.

LFS is currently helping him with his job search and providing him and other refugees with additional support, said Jeff Hall, program manager for economic development. This support takes the form of food, mental health services, assistance in opening a bank account and in acquiring a driver’s license and state identity card. The organization also helps access certain government benefits and offer English as a second language programs, financial literacy and job skills, he said.

“We have an employment program that allows us to find jobs relatively quickly, especially if they have permanent housing,” Hall said. “Our average time between the date of arrival and obtaining their first job is two months. “

LFS provides refugees, on average, 90 days of housing assistance, during which time refugees should have been placed in employment and generated enough income to start paying their own housing expenses, Hall said. They can continue to receive other services through LFS.

Greatest need

LFS is primarily funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Funding is based on a per refugee formula. But this formula does not help in the search for accommodation.

Jeff Hall

“So the problem now is finding available accommodation,” Hall said. “We have different community partners that we work with and we are able to bring people into these houses, but the challenge is to work with new partners and find more housing, because the need is so much greater than that. that our current partners have available. space.”

The greatest need is housing for the very large refugee families – in some cases eight to twelve family members, Hall said. “It means we need houses with four, five or more bedrooms. You just can’t fit 10 people in a two bedroom house with one bathroom.

In addition to issues regarding family size, the refugee population has additional hurdles to overcome, Hall said. “A lot of them come in with no credit history, no rental history, no work history, with limited English ability, and they’re competing for limited accommodation against other applicants who have all of these things.”

This competition often affects area residents who qualify for public housing or the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, as well as low-income individuals moving to Albuquerque from larger states where the housing has become even more unaffordable, Hall said.

Until accommodation can be found, LFS accommodates families in short-term Airbnb rentals and in buildings owned by churches of different denominations that have bathrooms and have been furnished with beds and appliances. laundry, Hall said.

“The funding we got is housing that we need. “

“Limited inventory”

Linda Bridge, executive director of the Albuquerque Housing Authority, said there is a “limited inventory” of housing for the placement of refugees, especially for “low-income people.” (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

The Albuquerque Housing Authority, which manages Section 8 and public housing programs for the City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and Rio Rancho, is also feeling both supply and demand pressures. Over the past six months, they have seen more requests for housing voucher extensions because people could not find rental accommodation and therefore could not use their vouchers, said executive director Linda Bridge. .

“I believe it is linked to the escalation of house prices in the market. There is limited inventory for single family homes and increasing prices for those properties, ”Bridge said.

Single family homes that people used to rent are now being bought for the top price, resulting in a loss of rental inventory. This is putting pressure on the rental market with increased demand for the remaining rental units – and higher rental prices, Bridge said.

“It makes it harder to use housing vouchers because we have limits on how much we can subsidize,” she added. “It’s especially difficult for low-income people who can’t afford market rent and rely on housing subsidies to help them. “

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