Afghan refugees struggle to find homes in Ottawa

Since his arrival in Ottawa on Aug. 28, Mohammad Saber Perdes has been working to find a home in his new country.

“The following day, I started searching for rental apartments and housing,” he said.

However, that search has proved daunting.

“It’s very hard,” said a frustrated Perdes.

For now, home for Perdes and 40 other Afghan refugees remains a west-end hotel. As his four children work and play in a hotel common area, Perdes is on his cell, calling landlords and filling out rental applications for three-bedroom apartments.

“Unfortunately, they were turned down because the landlords want people who have full-time jobs. I want to find a job, but it will take time.”

Employment in Canada is just one obstacle. The second is money.

Under the Government of Canada’s Resettlement Assistance Program, refugees receive a monthly housing allowance. A single person is given approximately $590 a month and a family of six —two parents with four children—receive $1044.

Those who work with refugees say the amounts of the allowance don’t keep pace with Ottawa’s high-priced rental market.

“Because of the saturated rental market, it’s hard to find a place,” said Asso Faraj, a counsellor with the Resettlement Assistance Program.

“Also, what they’re (the landlords) asking for most of the time, it’s over budget,” he said.

That means families who do find a place have to draw from their Canada Child Tax Benefit to cover the remaining amount of their rent, adding to the weight of their existing financial burden.

According to Faraj, only one refugee family—a couple and their father—has found an apartment in Ottawa. The other families are continuing their search, grateful to be safe and welcome in Canada, but eager to make a home in the community.

Nasir Ebrahim Khail and his family share two hotel rooms.

“We are six people. Parents plus four kids,” he said.

Khail is online hourly, looking for apartments, while facing the same challenges as other Afghans here.

“We don’t have proof of income, so we don’t have credit here so far. For people like my family, there’s hardly anything available.”

The former development officer of assistance projects at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul is grateful for hot water and warm beds, but he hopes to find a more suitable space where his family can prepare meals, play, work and build a life.

“We are here to work,” he said.

“So, we will not be a burden on the people, or the government, or the landlords.”

And Perdes, a Fulbright Scholar with 15 years of experience in public health and management roles, is urging landlords in Ottawa to give Canada’s newest arrivals a chance.

“We assure you, we will pay the rent on time and we can make a deposit of one or two months in advance to make sure that you are on the safe side and we will pay the rent on the first of each month,” he said.

Asso Faraj believes all the families will find homes.

“I’m always hopeful. We always find one house that clients like and the landlord is willing to rent and we’re all happy,” he said.

Perdes clings to that same hope. He’s excited to see his children go to school and feel the embrace of his new country.

“I look forward to meeting more and more great citizens of this land of opportunities.”