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Access to affordable housing provides refugees with more than just shelter

June 14, 2016 | Gisèle Bolduc

Update : November 18, 2020

Research conducted in major Canadian cities shows that refugee newcomers with large families struggle to find suitable housing. Organizations that settle government-assisted Syrian refugees have had to deal with this problem in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities. In a recent Policy Options article, Professor Damaris Rose of the INRS Urbanisation Culture Société Research Centre sheds light on certain issues affecting refugee housing.

Access to affordable housing represents a major challenge for refugees, who are generally traumatized by their experience and possess few material resources. Often underprivileged compared to other immigrants, refugees remain longer in overcrowded housing. However, this is not the case for every type of refugee. Better educated and with smaller families, privately sponsored Syrian refugees under the “Welcome Syrians” operation will no doubt have less trouble getting settled, provided they receive proper support from their sponsors in the form of mentoring and material assistance.

Damaris Rose also highlights the importance of urban geography for refugee resettlement. It is often easier to find affordable housing in smaller cities, which explains the decision to resettle refugees there. For example, in Quebec, 75% of government-sponsored Syrian refugees have been resettled in Quebec City, Gatineau, or in other small cities. Yet this policy does give rise to other problems concerning specialized assistance needed by refugees and often scarce public transport in the regions. 

“Providing refugees with affordable and decent housing also may give them the necessary breathing room to take time for retraining, language skills development, and other strategies so they can move faster out of the ranks of the working poor.”

Professor Rose

In her view, building social housing for large and multigenerational families as well as residential rehabilitation programs for private rental housing are the two best ways to improve the housing situation of low-income newcomers and certain refugees unable to enter the labour market in the near future.