Resettlement agencies face challenges finding housing for refugees

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The number of refugees coming to Buffalo continues to grow. In 2016, more than 1,000 refugees have been resettled in the Queen City, according to city officials.

The growth has rejuvenated the West Side but now resettlement agencies are struggling to find housing.

“If I had 10 more multi family income properties in this neighborhood, I’d fill every one of them,” said Michael Maywalt, owner of Maywalt Realty. “The demand is very, very strong for additional refugee families to come and be with folks from their own countries.”

Maywalt started buying properties in Buffalo’s Blackrock neighborhood 10 years ago. He was approached by resettlement agencies right away.

“They found me pretty quickly, it was one of the first properties I purchased over here,” he said. “In the beginning it was the agencies, Journey’s End and International Institute, coming to me with these clients. As I’m accommodating clients, they come to me directly about a brother, a cousin or some parents, can you help them?”

Now he has a waiting list.

“In this neighborhood there’s a high concentration of Iraqi families, Burma, Nepal and more recently from Afghanistan and Syria,” said Maywalt.

He said his company is starting to look outside of Blackrock to expand, as they work to accommodate the growing number of refugees coming to Buffalo.

City officials told News 4 there are now about 20,000 refugees living in the city.

“We need more good quality housing stock and it’s not necessarily available for an affordable price in the locations that we’re looking,” said Denise Beehag, Director of Refugee Resettlement for International Institute.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of State told News 4 they “provide a Reception and Placement per capita grant of $2,025 per refugee to nine current resettlement agencies for all resettled refugees.”

It’s used by resettlement agencies to help the newcomers during their first 30 to 90 days in the United States.

Beehag said after administrative costs are taken out only about $925- $1,125 is actually available for them to use towards rent, the security deposit, furniture, clothing and other necessities.

“The government has really not given that much of an increase,” said Beehag. “There have been small increases over the years to the program but really not in keeping with what the program demands.”

She said the rental market has changed dramatically over the last decade.

“If you look back five years ago, six years ago, it was relatively inexpensive to rent a home in Buffalo,” said Beehag. “There were a lot of doubles, uppers and lowers and we could rent maybe a two bedroom apartment for $500 and that is almost unheard of now.”

Another resettlement agency, Catholic Charities, told News 4 increasing home values and rising rents have also created a challenge for them.

Both agencies also said more people are becoming interested in moving into international neighborhoods.

“We had landlords that used to rent to us quite often and now they’re being very honest with us, saying we love renting to refugees but the truth is we could rent those apartments for an increased rent,” said Beehag.

The agencies also face other limitations. The homes need to be near public transportation and within walking distance of a grocery store. Plus, they only have about two weeks to find housing before the family arrives.

International Institute has started expanding its housing search to the East Side, in the Broadway Fillmore area and Schiller Park.

Beehag told News 4 there is more housing available in those neighborhoods, even if it’s not much cheaper.

Assistant Professor of Architecture at UB, Erkin Ozay, has taken an interest in refugee housing.

He asked his students to come up with a solution on the East Side.

“It’s still an affordable part of the city,” said Ozay. “It is also an emerging neighborhood in terms of immigrant populations moving there and perhaps also for resettlement. At the same time, it is a part of the city that has such long and deep multicultural roots and it has great urban assets.”

He said they looked at vacant properties, keeping in mind the proximity to public transportation, food, education and religious services.

They looked at how buildings could be developed for mixed-use refugee housing.

Ozay says there could be an opportunity for developers to work with resettlement agencies to apply for state or preservation grants to help create affordable housing.

Another idea they came up with was bringing in prefabricated houses.

“There’s actually a larger sort of affordable housing need in the city and we thought this could be a tool to facilitate this need as well,” said Ozay.

He tells us this builds off of the good work already being done in Buffalo.

“We were excited by the idea of our city, our neighborly city having lots of undisturbed areas, some embattled districts that could now be a source of hope for people who have gone through traumatic experiences, “said Ozay.

Now he hopes they can use these options to help developers, resettlement agencies and non-profits in their work towards a larger plan for resettlement

If you are interested in renting to refugees, you can find more information here.

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