How long have you worked at ICA?
I’ve worked at ICA since 2009; I started as a settlement worker.
What encouraged you to become the Refugee Assistance Program (RAP) Housing Coordinator
It’s a long story. I never thought I would be a person who specialized in housing, and I was really enjoying my job as a settlement worker at ICA. I had a good relationship with the other RAP workers and a good understanding of the procedures, so I knew I could bring a lot to the position, but the timing seemed overwhelming and I didn’t know if I would be interested. After receiving encouragement from a few ICA staff, I made a decision: I hit the send button – and that’s how it all happened! Now, I don’t regret the decision I made. Although the position is more intense than I expected, I am glad I could bring something to this team to help our clients resettle in Victoria.
Can you explain what your job entails?
As my title indicates, I help the Government Assisted Refugees to find permanent housing in Victoria. I work to create relationships with partners, subsidized housing providers, property management companies, and private landlords, as well as to educate the clients about how the systems work here in Canada and how to be good tenants. We want to ensure both the clients and the landlords are happy. All of the knowledge and skills I obtained in my previous position as a settlement worker are being utilized.
How many GAR families have found permanent housing to-date?
In May 2016, there were still about 20 families from the initial group of Government Assisted Refugees (who arrived in February and March) staying in temporary accommodations. They have since all been housed and we are in contact with these families to see how they are doing. We are also regularly in touch with the landlords to ensure they are happy with our clients. We are continuing to welcome families on a regular basis, and almost all of them have been housed except those families who have moved to a different city or province.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in finding permanent housing for newcomer families?
In Victoria, there are not enough places available, especially for big families with many children. Landlords also need to follow the national standard of occupancy codes, where age, gender, and number of children determines the number of rooms needed to accommodate the family. As an example, it was extremely difficult to find housing for families of 6. I have not seen a 4 bedroom unit for rent unless it is in a standalone house, which is not affordable for our clients.
Affordability is another concern. The housing market this year is crazy. Our clients, who have no references, no jobs, many children, and language barriers, are often passed over for other applicants. It has been very difficult. Clients have to compete against Canadian citizens, which can be very challenging.
What forms of support are the GAR families receiving in terms of housing?
Families are on a contract from the federal government for 1 year, and once they find permanent housing, the settlement team at ICA will assist families in creating a plan to help them pay rent and stay in a stable and affordable housing situation. Clients will not be abandoned after 1 year, and ICA will continue to be here to help with a variety of needs.
Many of the newcomers are already registered in English language classes at ICA, and are eligible to access our full suite of services including employment assistance and mentoring in our WorkBC Employment Services Centre, youth programming, workshops and training, and interpretation and translation services. ICA is part of a strong partnership network on Vancouver Island, and it is important to us that our clients have ongoing and relevant support.
Can you estimate how many rental units you will need by year-end?
We were just told by the federal government that we can expect a second wave of newcomers, beginning in September 2016, but this time arrivals will be more spread out. We anticipate about 10-12 families per month from September to December, 2016, and will need to find permanent housing for all of them.
How can community members help with addressing housing concerns?
When we first welcomed Syrian refugees at the beginning of the year, we received a lot of support and attention from the community because everyone wanted to help. Now, I feel like the community is becoming less responsive, but people still need help – and we need to help. I understand that some people have concerns about the influx of refugees to Victoria, but when you meet these families and their children you realize that all the work we do is worth it. I want to act as a bridge between our clients and the landlords. We need help. We have families arriving to Victoria soon, and their children will grow up and bring a lot to our community, but they need a safe place and they need our help.
Moving forward, I am considering orientation sessions for our clients and local landlords to assist both parties in gaining a clear understanding of ICA’s roles and to help prepare clients for the housing market. We want our clients to know they can be independent; it is part of our responsibility to teach them about how to be a good tenant and about how the system works here. We are not our client’s guardians, but are here to support them in their settlement process. Also, I would like to give landlords the opportunity to ask questions and to know what to expect from both ICA and our clients, as well as to have a clear understanding of what to do when issues arise. I have a lot of information to share with landlords from my experiences so far.
For anyone wanting to offer housing please contact me. I am happy to answer any questions. We need to house our clients as soon as possible, but I want to ensure anyone who decides to work (with) us is comfortable and happy.
For more information please contact Bo Min Kang, Resettlement Assistance Program Housing Coordinator at email@example.com 250-388-4728 ext. 150