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Do you or someone you know have a home for an Afghan refugee?

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance webinar focuses on housing challenges for Afghan and other refugees

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Belinda Fewings via Unsplash

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Refugees from Afghanistan can face many obstacles on their journey to the United States. One of the biggest is finding a place to live.

“One of the issues that we’re running into is because of the large amount of people coming all at one time and the housing situation in the United States,” Evi Long, Housing Coordinator for Church World Service (CWS), said Thursday afternoon during a webinar presented by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). “In general, there’s a bit of a housing crisis for affordable housing in the United States, and this is prior to the situation in Afghanistan. This has been an ongoing issue. It’s been an issue that your resettlement agencies have struggled with, and individuals in general.”

Click here to see the webinar on Afghan refugees and housing in its entirety

Now making the situation more difficult is the large influx of refugees — not just from Afghanistan, but from other nations as well.

Prior to the end of the nearly 20-year United States war in Afghanistan, the cap on refugee admissions to the United States had already been raised this year from a historic low of 15,000 in fiscal year 2021, with only 11,411 admitted, according to several sources. Then the United States agreed to accept tens of thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the country for fear of persecution or worse from the Taliban, which now rules Afghanistan. Many refugees worked with the United States military during its 20 years in the country, making them targets of the new government.

More than 60,000 refugees have arrived and are staying on military bases around the country. The goal is to have the bases cleared by mid-February 2022, said Susan Krehbiel, PDA Associate for Refugees & Asylum. That deadline, in addition to the raised refugee cap, has resettlement agencies such as CWS handling up to six times or more the number of new arrivals they handled last year, PDA Associate for National Disaster Response the Rev. Jim Kirk said.

Fortunately, Kirk said, people have been stepping up to help in large numbers to help provide welcome in a variety of ways. But Thursday’s discussion focused on a way to help many may not have considered: providing a home or at least temporary housing.

“We’re looking for creative solutions,” Long said. While CWS has been working with national partners such as Air BnB and Hyatt Hotels to finding housing for refugees, “I do find the best landlords to work with refugees, are on the local level,” Long said. “It is that person who has three or four units — if you just have one place that can be a beautiful, wonderful home for years to come, for an Afghan family, that is so needed and so wanted. Because if you have 40 of those partners, that’s 40 for 40 cases, that’s a lot, or maybe more than 40 cases, if we put roommates together.

“Reach out to friends or colleagues who may have a home to rent or property management company,” Long suggested. “Talk to local governments about providing more affordable housing.”

Some potential landlords may take convincing, Long acknowledged, possibly due to past experiences or misinformation and fear.

Evi Long is Housing Coordinator for Church World Service. (Screenshot)

During her presentation, Long made a case for landlords renting to refugees, noting that Afghan refugees, in particular, have access to financial programs including emergency rental assistance, cash assistance, and SNAP (food stamps), so they will be able to pay. They are also being given the documentation they need to work and coming into an employee-friendly job market.

“A lot of employers are reaching out to resettlement agencies,” Long said.

While certainly some landlords have had trouble with refugees, Long noted refugees are like everyone else in that there are a few problematic people. But on the whole, Long said, refugees tend to be good tenants.

As for fears of refugees coming from Afghanistan, Long asserted that, “they are the most vetted people coming into the United States.” After 20 years fighting a war in Afghanistan, she added, “The U.S. probably knows more about bad guys in Afghanistan than [in] the U.S.”

Long also said that landlords who rent to refugees and work with resettlement agencies can guarantee tenants for years to come. CWS, Long said, prioritizes placing refugees in safe, clean homes. Krehbiel noted that PDA has given CWS $100,000 for transitional housing.

Click here to learn more about PDA’s Refugee Ministry and how you can help.

Krehbiel added that in the Presbyterian community, PDA has seen creative solutions from churches, including the use of manses or other unused residential facilities on their property or that they own and making it available to refugees for either short- or long-term housing. She said she has also seen church facilities converted to create spaces that refugees can temporarily live away from the activity of the church. Other solutions Krehbiel has seen include partnering with neighboring colleges and universities to dedicate dormitory space for refugees.

Because of the housing crunch, transitional housing is also needed.  Krehbiel notes that two Presbyterian camps that are located near resettlement agencies are offering temporary housing for refugees.  These camps have cottages where families are able to cook their own meals.

Krehbiel and Long also advised advocating with local governments for more affordable housing — not just for refugees but for all citizens, as a lack of affordable housing is a situation that impacts a lot of communities.

Long said, “having safe sanitary housing is critical for families’ integration. And make sure that families aren’t just surviving or thriving.”

Learn more about working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the church to welcome refugees at noon Eastern Time on Dec. 8 on ‘Join the Movement,’ a recurring livestream series on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Facebook page.

Gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to support Refugee and Asylum ministries.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


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