Refugee arrivals to Vancouver paused as agency scrambles to find housing

January 16, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. has asked Ottawa to hit the pause button on Syrian refugee arrivals to Vancouver as temporary hotel rooms fill up and the agency scrambles to house those already here.

There will be 763 government-assisted Syrian refugees in Vancouver by Sunday, said Chris Friesen, the agency’s director of settlement services, up from 389 on Dec. 31. Only a handful have been moved out of the six hotels where they are being temporarily housed and into permanent accommodation.

Part of the delay stems from difficulty finding accommodation large enough to accommodate the size of the families, which average six people, and is affordable for people on income support equivalent to welfare, Friesen said.

The agency has amassed close to 1,000 housing leads, and as of next week will have seven full-time staff combing through them. Many of the landlords are offering to rent the units at below market value so as to be affordable to refugees. Government-assisted refugees receive a shelter allowance that amounts to a maximum of $785 per month (for a couple with four children under 19) from the federal government. Smaller families receive less.

“The plan is that we’re focusing staffing resources … on securing permanent housing now through pre-existing offers that we have, matching them up, and getting them out.”

Vancouver’s Concert Properties has offered 17 housing units, either two or three bedrooms, to Syrian refugee families, Friesen said. Fifteen of the units are in Coquitlam and two are in Vancouver, and Concert Properties is renting them to refugees at sub-market value. The Immigrant Services Society plans to move 26 families out of hotels and into these units next week. Concert Properties did not respond to a request for comment.

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