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Finding Housing for the Syrian Refugee Newcomers

November 22, 2017 | Gisèle Bolduc

Update : November 10, 2020

On National Housing Day, Damaris Rose, Honorary Professor at INRS, is revealing the findings of a study about the first permanent housing for the Syrian refugee newcomers. This research, carried out with her co-researcher Alexandra Charette, shows the importance of making public policy more responsive to newcomers’ and other low income Canadians’ needs for adequate and affordable housing.

The researchers conducted a study with the participation of representatives of refugee-serving community organizations in 13 cities in seven Canadian provinces. Their aim: examine the challenges these organizations faced in their search for permanent housing for the Syrian newcomers, focusing mainly on the government assisted refugees. They recommend:

  • building more housing for large families;
  • expand access to social and affordable housing;
  • reinstate federal funding for rehabilitation of rental housing.

Ad hoc tactics, including temporary rent reductions and rent supplements paid for by private philanthropic contributions, turned out to be indispensable in this operation. As well, child and family benefits provided crucial financial support to some families. But our study shows that it is urgent to find a sustainable solution to bridge the gap between the financial support granted by the Resettlement Assistance Program, which is based on provincial social assistance rates, and the real costs of housing in Canadian cities.” 

Damaris Rose, professor

Despite advance planning, the organizations had to deal with unexpected issues and adapt their housing search strategies, notably because of insufficient prior information about the number of newcomers and their family sizes, often including many young children. This was the main reason for the long stays in temporary housing seen in some cities. In many of these cities, there is a great scarcity of affordable housing for families on a tight budget. It was also important to give the refugee newcomers the option of living close to friends, for the sake of mutual social support and to preserve their mental health. Access by public transportation to settlement services and to cultural and religious institutions was also an important consideration in the choice of housing. 

Among the factors contributing to the success of this operation, which was on a scale not seen for over 30 years, the participants in this study highlighted: 

  • the unprecedented degree of cooperation between the different levels of government and local organizations;
  • the organizations’ collaboration with landlords with whom they had built relationships of trust, which helped them get access to housing in good condition;
  • the crucial role played by volunteers.

The study Finding housing for the Syrian refugee newcomers in Canadian cities: challenges, initiatives and policy implications. Synthesis report was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), in partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).