Refugees struggling with rents almost $300 more than housing allowance

·3 min read
Refugees arriving on P.E.I. can face serious financial challenges. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Refugees arriving on P.E.I. can face serious financial challenges. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Immigrant and Refugee Services Association of P.E.I. has had to add a third reception house in Charlottetown because it needs more places to temporarily house refugees.

Rising rents and low vacancy rates have made it a struggle for IRSA to find places for refugees landing on P.E.I. to live.

At the end of 2020, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment on P.E.I. was $815. Resettlement Assistance Program worker Alexa Reid said the shelter allowance was $539, with a $200 supplement available in special circumstances.

"The look on their face when they arrive, and I sit them down and I go over what their initial cheque details are and their income support and everything, just, their first question that comes out of their mouth is, 'am I going to be able to afford to live here?'" Reid told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

Submitted by Alexa Reid
Submitted by Alexa Reid

In most cases, individual refugees who arrive on their own have to find someone already on the Island to share a place with. This comes with its own challenges, because many of them do not speak English. They need to find someone who shares a language with them.

"It's kind of community connections that usually make that work," said Reid

"I do have some single clients who have been unable to form those connections and have been forced to live on their own."

In almost all cases, Reid said her clients have to dip into other allowances, those for food or clothing, to cover their rent cost. The total allowance for an individual is $1,055 a month, including the $200 emergency rent supplement. Beyond that, they have to rely on other support programs for essentials, such as the food bank — programs that Reid helps them navigate.

'Not ... the first ones that landlords pick'

Families looking for larger accommodations run into barriers connected with the low vacancy rate.

"There's incredible competition amongst people who are trying to be tenants," said Reid.

"If a landlord puts a duplex up for rent, that's a three-bedroom unit, let's say $1,300 a month. They're going to be receiving numerous amounts of applicants. And when it comes down to rental applications, unfortunately, seeing my clients on paper, sometimes my clients are not going to be the first ones that landlords pick."

Refugees lack references, credit ratings and they're unemployed, all of which puts them at a disadvantage, she said.

IRSA has been looking for accommodation for two families since August. That means two of IRSA's three temporary apartments have been full. So, in the meantime, arriving refugees have had to be housed in commercial short-term rentals, which is more expensive.

While it has been a struggle, Reid said she has so far been able to make it work.

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, which sets the allowances and supports the refugees for one year, is aware of the money problems, said Reid, which is an issue across Canada.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for IRCC said monthly income support levels for shelter, food and incidentals are guided by the prevailing provincial social assistance rates.

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