Some Ukrainian refugees are struggling to secure rental housing in Nova Scotia due to a competitive rental market, low vacancy rates and difficult paperwork.
Since February, more than 500 people from Ukraine have arrived and are planning to stay in Nova Scotia, according to the province. Thursday marked the end of federal funding support for the 319 Ukrainians who arrived in Canada on a federally chartered flight on June 2.
But complicated rental applications and a red-hot rental market are two barriers holding them back from finding places to live.
"This is a huge problem here," said Liliya Grygoryev, a Ukrainian who has been living in Nova Scotia for about four years and is now a permanent resident. She lives in Cole Harbour with her three children and husband.
The Grygoyev's four bedroom house is full these days. She's is hosting her niece, Viktoria Voloshyn, her husband and their three children who recently fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
With her help, the Voloshyns have opened Canadian bank accounts and now have Nova Scotia driver's licences.
But now they're scrambling to find housing, as another Ukrainian family is due to arrive on July 1 to stay with the Grygoryevs.
"We're nervous about this, yes. We have to find them an apartment very quickly," said Grygoryev.
They have sent out six or seven rental applications with no luck.
Grygoryev said the main problem is filling out application forms for landlords, which often require information like credit history, rental history, and proof of employment. She said some blanks just can't be filled in yet.
Voloshyn has even offered to pay three to four months of rent in advance and proof of bank statements to show they have the money. It still didn't help secure housing.
"Nobody [gets] back to her. Nobody, it's just like nothing happens," Grygoryev said.
"People maybe choose someone who has a strong base in Canada, not the newcomers."
More host families needed
The federal government pledged to pay for hotel rooms for 14 days for those who have not been placed in a home-stay or found their own housing. Since then, Rick Langille said people have been working feverishly to find more permanent accommodations.
Langille has been organizing resources for Ukrainian families landing in Halifax. Within the last week, three families have reached out to Langille asking for help finding rental accommodations.
Two weeks in hotels helped buy some time, but Langille said it's not enough to solve the housing problem.
"Lots of people were asking, what happens in two weeks? Where do they go? And there weren't a lot of answers," Langille said. "It's common knowledge that there is little to no vacancy here in HRM. For anybody, let alone folks that are coming in without credit credentials."
Langille helped one family who was prepared to pay six months' rent in advance and they were still turned away because of a lack of credit history in Canada. It took that family six weeks to find a place to rent.
While Nova Scotians have been stepping up with donations, Langille said more host families are needed to support Ukrainian refugees until they can secure jobs, establish a credit history and eventually succeed with housing applications.
40 Ukrainians still looking
The federal government announced at the beginning of June that Ukrainians arriving in Canada can apply to receive transitional financial assistance consisting of a one-time payment of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child.
Jennifer L'Esperance, senior executive director of immigration and population growth with Nova Scotia's Department of Labour Skills and Immigration, told Maritime Noon Thursday that fewer than 40 of the Ukrainians who arrived on a federally chartered flight two weeks ago are still searching for accommodations.
L'Esperance said those who did not secure housing will be provided additional temporary housing arranged by the province.
Since they've touched down, L'Esperance said families have secured social insurance numbers, bank accounts, employment, language supports and housing opportunities.
She said the Ukrainian Canadian Congress has matched more than 30 families to homes in Nova Scotia. "So it has been quite successful," she said.
Still, there's an ongoing need for more Nova Scotians to open up their homes to newcomers. L'Esperance says people looking to support displaced Ukrainians should go to the the YMCA's website, which has resources for refugees and locals who want to help.
Province stands by commitment
Labour Minister Jill Balser said Thursday the province made a commitment to Ukrainians who come to Nova Scotia, and that none will be without a place to live.
"We've made a commitment to support them and we want to make sure that they're housed and that they're safe," she said.
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