A Refugee Crisis Runs Into a Housing Crisis

1 year ago 397

Thousands of Afghan refugees are being released from subject bases to U.S. cities to rebuild their lives. Settling them into homes amid a rental shortage is proving to beryllium a challenge.

Many Afghan families are temporarily surviving  astatine  the Comfort Suites successful  Owensboro, Ky.
Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Miriam Jordan

Dec. 15, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

OWENSBORO, Ky. — After a harrowing flight from Afghanistan and 3 months connected a subject basal successful New Jersey, Mohammad bin Rahimi and his household of 9 felt fortunate that they would yet person a caller home, successful Owensboro, a tiny Kentucky metropolis connected the Ohio River.

But they didn’t expect to find themselves connected the borderline of a workplace successful a cramped, 1850s-era log compartment reminiscent of Daniel Boone and different American pioneers.

“We are precise blessed to beryllium successful Kentucky,” said Mr. Rahimi, 48, a erstwhile U.S. Embassy information defender successful Kabul. He expressed heavy gratitude for the lukewarm reception successful Owensboro but said his household was acrophobic to task outdoors astatine night, truthful distant was their caller lodging. “We look guardant to moving into a existent house,” helium said.

As Afghan refugees are released from bases by the thousands each week to commencement rebuilding their lives successful the United States, they are bumping up against an unexpected obstacle: the lodging crisis.


Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Resettlement agencies person been scrambling to find rentals successful cities similar Los Angeles, Phoenix and St. Louis arsenic good successful towns similar Owensboro and Reno, Nev., wherever lease properties are successful abbreviated supply, costly oregon both. The coronavirus pandemic, complaints of favoritism and the sheer fig of recently arriving Afghans person besides posed challenges.

As of Monday, much than 40,000 Afghans had completed their processing and departed for caller homes; immoderate 30,000 others remained connected 7 subject bases that the authorities hopes to bare arsenic soon arsenic possible.

In Reno, a blistery existent property marketplace wherever the mean flat rents for $1,600, Afghans are being placed successful motels, mother-in-law units, people’s basements and Airbnbs, said Carina Black, enforcement manager astatine Northern Nevada International Center, which has absorbed much refugees successful 1 period than successful the past 2 years combined.

“We’re truthful overwhelmed,” Ms. Black said. “These folks were nether the content they were going into imperishable lodging erstwhile they near the bases. Instead, we are successful a wide hunt for impermanent housing.”

Owensboro, a metropolis of astir 60,000, was considered an perfect determination to resettle Afghan refugees: The outgo of surviving is low, jobs are plentiful, and schools are solid.

But rentals are scarce.

Two Afghan families are surviving successful a 147-year-old convent 15 miles from town. Some are staying successful younker centers astatine churches. And dozens are holed up successful a motel.

“We are precise bored here. My woman cries each day. She is reasoning each the clip astir her household successful Afghanistan,” Zakirullah Ahmadzai, 32, said arsenic his wife, Noorsabah Quroishi, 24, was wiping her tears with the fringes of her hijab successful the eating country of a Comfort Suites.


Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

“We had bully beingness implicit there. We had bully houses. Now we are zero,” said Mr. Ahmadzai, who was a businessman successful Afghanistan.

When would they person homes? Would they travel with kitchens? Hot moving water?

Those were immoderate of the questions that 18 Afghan men successful the lobby of the Comfort Suites lobbed astatine Khaibar Shafaq, an English-speaking evacuee who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and has assumed the relation of interlocutor betwixt his chap Afghans and the International Center, the section resettlement agency.

“We are truly blessed here. But since we are with the family, it would person been overmuch amended to determination to our houses,” said Haji Mohammad Yarmal, a begetter of four.

Landlords and spot managers, who tin spend to beryllium picky successful a choky market, person been reluctant to instrumentality a accidental connected foreigners who inactive deficiency jobs and imperishable residency status, and who often person ample families. Many person demanded recognition history, inheritance checks and co-signers, each of which aren’t typically required of recently arrived refugees.

“They don’t accidental ‘no,’” said Diana Ford, a assemblage person who is starring an extended unpaid effort to assistance the newcomers. “They say, ‘We don’t person thing available.”’

Unlike refugees moving to cities similar Sacramento and Houston, with established Afghan communities, evacuees arriving successful smaller towns person nary relatives to instrumentality them in.

Ms. Ford has tapped concern and religion leaders and section foundations to assistance find Afghans housing, screen their motel rooms and provender them — to spare the refugees from having to dip into their one-time currency stipends from the U.S. government, usually astir $1,200 per household member, that are intended for rent.


Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

In large cities, refugees are uncovering that rentals are plentiful but the outgo prohibitively high. In tiny towns similar Owensboro, prices are lower, but inventory is highly limited.

“Already we had a shortage of rental properties, and present we person Afghan families desperately needing a spot to live,’’ said Jaclyn Graves, main enforcement of the Greater Owensboro Realtor Association.

The marketplace has agelong catered to location buyers attracted to that town, which is betwixt Louisville and Nashville, wherever “you tin get a batch of bang for the buck,” Ms. Graves said.But the Afghans are improbable to beryllium capable to spend to bargain a location until they person jobs and dependable income.

The log compartment thought originated erstwhile Bruce Kunze, a retired schoolhouse counselor, got a telephone past period from Ms. Ford, an aged friend, asking if helium knew wherever a recently arrived household of 9 could temporarily live.

“I told her, we person this cabin, it’s bare and we’d beryllium blessed for them to stay,” Mr. Kunze recalled.

Because Mr. Kunze was retired of town, Ms. Ford’s hubby had to ascent done the extortion to get wrong and unlock it. Soon the Rahimis were moving in.

The gait of arrivals successful municipality ramped up rapidly, with 30 radical arriving connected immoderate days.

By precocious November, the Comfort Suites had go a bustling Afghan hub. A squad led by Mr. Shafaq created spreadsheets with details astir the radical successful each room, including ages, covering sizes, languages spoken and professions.

Ms. Ford raised wealth to proviso lunches regular from Panera, Red Lobster and different eateries. A erstwhile navigator for the U.S. subject began preparing meal each nighttime astatine First Christian Church, with donated ingredients and halal nutrient supplied by a mosque successful adjacent Evansville, Ind.


Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

A consciousness of assemblage has blossomed among the 160 Afghans astatine the motel, who person antithetic ethnic, acquisition and socioeconomic backgrounds.

On a balmy autumn afternoon, children successful the parking batch sped astir connected a luggage cart. Others played volleyball with shot balls, arsenic adults tapped distant connected their cellphones. Volunteers unloaded hygiene products, supplication rugs and different items from cars, and ferried radical to dental and aesculapian appointments.

Over a meal of Afghan chicken, cabbage stew and salad, respective teen girls who had go accelerated friends said they relished being successful America, wherever bombs did not jolt them awake astatine nighttime and the Taliban could not stifle their dreams. Mursal Nazari, 15, who aspires to go a doctor, highlighted the greenery, the calm and the benignant radical she had met successful Owensboro.

But beingness successful the motel is monotonous. Outings are constricted to the occasional travel to Walmart, a parkland oregon the mosque for Friday prayers. Although the refugees are grateful to beryllium successful the United States, vexation is rising.

“People were told they would spell straight to houses erstwhile they near the bases,” Mr. Shafaq said. “What has been told to them is not really happening. They are losing spot successful the process.”

Tom Watson, the politician of Owensboro, said that with truthful galore refugees landing astatine once, it was important to behaviour reviews of the arrivals earlier settling them successful imperishable housing. “We don’t cognize who we got,” helium said, noting that helium had requested a “file” connected each Afghan. “I request to cognize conscionable from the nationalist information standpoint.”


Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Susan Montalvo-Gesser, a section lawyer who is connected the committee of the International Center, drafted a missive to Owensboro landlords and spot managers to easiness immoderate concerns.

Afghan refugees, she wrote, “have had much extended inheritance checks” than section rental applicants, whose records are verified lone against authorities transgression and eviction records. The missive besides said that the resettlement bureau was consenting to co-sign leases.

A fewer days later, determination was a breakthrough.

“We got 12 to 13 much houses today,” said Anna Allen, manager of the International Center. “Another landlord said that not lone does helium person an apartment, but he’s going to person 12 much units disposable adjacent month.”

“I’m feeling connected apical of the world,” she said. “I tin breathe.”

Ten miles extracurricular of town, the two-room log compartment wherever the Rahimis stay is invitingly cozy. Its honey-hued interior features an antique spinning wheel, woody precocious seat and chromatic chimney.

But the Rahimis are inactive not accustomed to their rustic, if temporary, abode. After the sound and bustle of Kabul, they said that the quiet, and creatures, of the countryside unnerved them. Worried astir wasps that sometimes lurk upstairs, each 9 are camping retired successful the downstairs room.

“We grew up successful the city,” said Mirnesa Rahimi, who has tried to reassure her 7 children that, successful the enveloping soundlessness of the rolling farmlands that agelong successful each direction, determination is thing to fear.


Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
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