The Fraser Valley organization helping refugees find housing

The housing market is hard enough to break into for the average person. Imagine if you were fleeing war.

Digging through Facebook Marketplace listings and Craigslist posts for a new place to call home isn’t easy for anyone.

But it’s particularly tricky when you don’t speak the language. And when you don’t have a credit score for landlords to check. Or when all your references live on the other side of the world. 

Those are just some of the challenges that newcomers to Canada face trying to find long-term housing in the Fraser Valley. But some new arrivals have help in their hunt for housing.

Finding an affordable rental in the Lower Mainland is a daunting task these days. And that task only gets harder for people just starting out in Canada—and sometimes starting their entire lives over.

“Newcomers didn't create the housing crisis,” Kim Reddicopp said. “But they are disproportionately affected.” 

Reddicopp works as a refugee integration liaison with the Fraser Valley Refugee Readiness Team, a branch of Archway Community Services in Chilliwack dedicated to connecting newcomers to the services they need to thrive. She wants to see communities help support newcomers locally—and part of her job is building the relationships that make local support possible.

The team focuses on four main areas: housing, access to health care, employment, and co-ordination of information and resources. 

“Housing and access to health care are probably the largest portions,” Reddicopp said. “It's what we see newcomers struggling to access the most.”

She likes the word “newcomers.” Reddicopp uses it as an umbrella term, but the team is set up to help two specific groups of people who have come to Canada by necessity: Afghan refugees and displaced Ukrainians. 

While refugees enter the country through either privately or publicly sponsored programs and are usually set up with financial support, that assistance often doesn’t include long-term housing. In the Fraser Valley, where the rental market is challenging to navigate for anyone on a reasonable budget, finances for refugees and displaced people remain tight. 

But refugees also face unique barriers to finding regular market housing, Reddicopp said. It’s harder for the landlord to access information about someone’s rental history if that history took place on a different continent. References from previous rentals might live in different time zones and speak different languages. Criminal record or credit checks might not work properly when someone doesn’t have a long history in the country.

The Fraser Valley Refugee Readiness team connects refugees with non-profits that work more directly in housing. Workers can help translate and even provide references. And, in a high-pressure housing market, direct help can help ensure newcomers don’t end up in ugly situations. Workers can check in on newcomers once they get settled in and ensure that they know their rights as tenants. 

This kind of help, though, isn’t available to every newcomer to Canada. The readiness team itself is set up for refugees from two specific global conflicts. Some groups, like international students or foreign workers, aren’t technically covered under the team’s mandate. Other non-profits focus in other areas with other groups of people. There are holes in the network. 

But the nature of the team is such that some of their work might reach farther than just the groups it set out to help. 

“Our team functions through networking and making connections between community members,” Reddicopp said. “[It] lends itself well to ensuring that everybody is working in the best interest of the communities and the newcomers and everybody involved.”

If that net is woven tight enough, it can catch more than it intended to. One part of the network doing so is addressing the other half of the housing equation: the landlords.

The refugee readiness team is running an event for local homeowners and landowners on Tuesday, Nov. 14. During the workshop, landlords and homeowners—anyone with something to rent, whether it be a small fortune in condos or a granny suite in the basement—can hear about why they should consider renting to someone new to the country who doesn’t check the traditional paperwork boxes. 

“The objective for the event is to increase awareness in the community of the lived experiences of newcomers, and how they as community members can get involved,” Reddicopp said. The session could leave a homeowner more open not only to renting to refugees of different global conflicts but to other newcomers, as well.

Reddicopp trumpets the benefits of renting to newcomers.

“We're also looking at the strengths that newcomers are bringing to our community that benefit not only landlords, but the community as a whole,” she said. “They have encountered incredibly difficult situations and have had to navigate arriving in a new country…This resilience and creativity that they bring is something that will leave them excellent tenants.”

The community information session for local landlords, homeowners, and property managers on Tuesday, Nov. 14 will be held in Chilliwack in the Slesse Room at Evergreen Hall. 

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