Access to secure and affordable housing
The focus of this section is on strategies for supporting resettled refugees to obtain long-term, safe, secure and affordable housing. Issues involved in meeting household establishment costs are discussed in the placement section. Accommodation arrangements prior to permanent housing being secured are discussed in the section on reception.
Recognising that few resettled refugees are likely to be in a position to purchase a home in their early years in the resettlement country, this section focuses on rental housing options.
Planning safe, secure and affordable housing
- developing partnerships with governmental and private sector housing providers, housing associations, charitable organisations, etc.
- providing support for resettled refugees to access long-term housing as part of integration case management and reception support. It is essential that this be combined with budgeting and personal finance and support in accessing employment.
- planning permanent housing options in advance of refugee arrivals.
- consider, holistically, any possible limitations in terms of income support or financial restrictions, allowing a realistic appraisal of affordability. This appraisal should not simply consider the local housing allowance but the restrictions in place for large families. This will avoid families being placed into housing where the rent is higher than the actual benefits received.
- the inclusion of information about accessing long term housing in orientation programs.
- the involvement of volunteer and professional social support providers in assisting resettled refugees to secure housing; For example, difficulties can stem from broader issues such as public sector housing waiting lists which may require potential tenants to be resident in the area for an extended period of time. Further, private sector accommodation may reject tenants who receive governmental income. Volunteer and professional support providers can ensure that these residency requirements are waived for refugees and provide individual advocacy with landlords.
- initiatives to build the capacity of diaspora and refugee-led services, resettlement and nongovernment agencies and housing advocacy services to support resettled refugees to access housing.
- professional development for public sector housing providers, including training in cultural diversity and access and equity issues.
- housing that meet the needs of resettled refugees with special housing needs.
- legislation and programs to counter discrimination against resettled refugees in the housing market.
- rental subsidies and grants to meet the up-front and ongoing costs of rental accommodation.
Factors affecting access to housing
As well as being a fundamental human right, safe, secure and affordable housing plays a critical role in determining overall health and well-being and provides a base from which resettled refugees can seek employment, re-establish family relationships and make connections with the wider community.
Most resettled refugees will have spent prolonged periods in a country of asylum where their shelter was unsafe, substandard or overcrowded and where they may have lacked security of tenure. Setting up a home and establishing a ‘sense of place’ in the receiving society is therefore a critical part of the integration process. Resettled refugees’ capacity to secure housing is influenced by a range of factors, including their:
- earning capacity in the early integration period, with many being on low and fixed incomes. This affects both the ability to meet the initial costs associated with establishing a housing tenancy as well as ongoing rental payments;
- knowledge of the housing market in the resettlement country which will hamper their search for housing;
- knowledge of rights and responsibilities as tenants. Detailed orientation should be provided in the first week of arrival and information on how to maintain the tenancy throughout the support period;
- capacity to meet requirements for securing a housing tenancy (for example, prospective tenants are usually required to furnish personal references and to have an established employment record);
- ability to communicate in the language of the resettlement country;
- inability to rely on accommodation support from family and friends as nationals;
- family composition and housing needs. Large families, extended families, singles and refugees with disabilities may experience greater difficulties in securing appropriate accommodation;
- cultural views of various housing types. For example, in some cultures, wooden housing may be perceived as inferior.
Also relevant are factors in the resettlement country, including:
- the structure of the housing sector, in particular, the extent of private home ownership and the mix of government and private sector involvement in the rental housing market. In countries government plays a significant role in housing provision for nationals, while in others there is limited public sector involvement and public housing is targeted to nationals with special needs.
- the existing infrastructure to support populations with more intensive housing needs (e.g. housing advocacy services).
- the cost of housing and in particular the availability of low-cost housing. Resettled refugees may only be able to find affordable, sustainable housing by moving from the area in which they were originally resettled.
- the availability of appropriate housing. For example, in a number of resettlement countries, the trend in the wider population is toward smaller family size. These countries have experienced some difficulties in providing housing for large and extended refugee families. For some resettled refugees, privacy may be important, particularly those who have spent prolonged periods in a refugee camp or in other forms of collective housing. For example, in urban areas extended families will more often than not be housed separately and not necessarily close to each other.
- the preparedness of private renting agents and landlords to rent to resettled refugees and existing provisions to prevent discrimination in the housing market.
- Resettled refugees tend to be over-represented in insecure and substandard housing, to suffer discrimination in the housing market, and to be relatively mobile in the early integration period.
- Some countries accommodate refugees in dedicated reception centres for the first weeks or months. Advance planning to meet the housing needs of resettled refugees is important to avoid resettled refugees spending a prolonged period in reception accommodation (see reception section).
Planning issues to consider
Ensuring that resettled refugees have access to secure and affordable permanent housing is perhaps one of the most challenging and complex problems facing countries of resettlement. Recognising the critical role of housing in the integration process, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands all allocate long-term housing to resettled refugees soon after their arrival.
Their capacity to do so is influenced by both the structure of housing provision in those countries (with government playing a significant role in providing housing to nationals), and the fact that resettled refugees are allocated to specific municipalities according to a quota system. This enables a greater degree of advance planning than is the case in countries where refugee placement is governed by other factors (see the placement section).
In other resettlement countries, however, there may be barriers to allocating subsidised housing to resettled refugees, with many having minimal public sector housing, an unmet demand for low cost accommodation among nationals, and significant homeless populations.
In this context, governments risk generating antipathy toward resettled refugees if there is a perception that refugees are given preference over nationals for subsidised government housing. While in some of these countries, public housing authorities agree to allocate units for resettled refugees, in others newcomers are required to secure housing on the same basis as nationals and are subject to the same eligibility requirements and waiting periods for public housing.
Nevertheless, almost all countries recognise that resettled refugees face disadvantage in the housing market and hence offer them additional support to access permanent housing.
Identifying key players in housing provision
The involvement of a number of key stakeholders will be critical in ensuring that resettled refugees have secure and affordable accommodation, in particular:
- private sector landlords and renting agents;
- government housing authorities;
- community-based integration agencies, diaspora and refugee support services and non-government agencies. In many countries, these agencies provide housing advocacy, advice and support and may also be involved in providing subsidised housing to populations with special needs;
- housing associations, charitable organisations;
- volunteers. In many countries, volunteers provide ‘hands-on’ support in the process of searching for a house;
- refugee communities and family and friends.
Initiatives to facilitate access to safe, secure and affordable housing
Housing information and support
Most countries incorporate information about housing into orientation programs and offer individual support to secure long term housing as part of reception and early integration support.
Some resettled refugees will require housing support, information, advocacy and advice later in the integration period in relation to tenancy matters or when searching for a house in the event that further relocations are required. Varying arrangements are in place in established resettlement countries for providing this support, including:
- providing funding to grassroot, diaspora, integration support and non-government agencies serving refugees and immigrants to offer housing advice and support;
- promoting resettled refugees’ access to housing support, advocacy and information services established for nationals who experience disadvantage in the housing market (e.g. by providing information about these services to resettled refugees; sensitising services to the experiences and needs of resettled refugees; and establishing partnerships between integration support services and specialist housing agencies);
- establishing special housing information, support and advocacy services for refugees and immigrants.
Addressing possible objections to renting to resettled refugees
Private renting agents may be reluctant to rent to resettled refugees because few resettled refugees have an established rental or employment record in the resettlement country.
They may also be concerned about the potential for existing tenants to be intolerant of newcomers (e.g. different cooking smells or music). A number of strategies have been adopted by resettlement countries to address this, including:
- building relationships between integration agencies and individual renting agents to give reassurance that resettled refugees can maintain a sound and secure tenancy;
- awareness raising activities among private landlords and rental agents;
- promoting resettled refugees’ access to mediation and advocacy services through community-based services and non-government agencies or housing advocacy services established for nationals;
- brokerage services. For example, the British Refugee Council offered a scheme whereby the council provided (among other things) a written guarantee against an agreed inventory on behalf of refugee tenants. In Portugal for example, NGOs as well as municipalities will sublet private housing with some exceptions. Through positive experiences with refugee tenants, landlords participating in brokerage programs may be more willing to enter future tenancies with resettled refugees without third party intervention;
- legislation to prevent discrimination in the housing market on the grounds of race, culture or ethnicity (see section on welcoming and inclusive societies)
To access affordable, quality housing new arrivals will need to know:
- whether housing is provided to resettled refugees by the resettlement country;
- about the key features of the housing market (e.g. the mix of public and private housing, home ownership);
- the costs of housing in the resettlement country;
- the availability of housing (how difficult will housing be to secure?);
- realistic information about the quality of affordable housing and the characteristics of the neighbourhood in which it is likely to be available;
- the rights and obligations of housing tenants;
- the availability of services providing advice and support in locating and securing housing;
- the availability of financial assistance to meet the costs of housing (e.g. rental subsidies, refundable loans, assistance with ‘up-front’ costs);
- how to find and apply for rental accommodation;
- how to apply for government subsidised housing.
Enhancing access to public housing
Wherever possible, it is important to make government subsidised housing available to resettled refugees as they may be on a low or fixed income in the early integration period. Resettlement countries have sought to enhance resettled refugees’ access to public housing by
- providing information to resettled refugees about public housing. In many countries, resettled refugees are routinely supported to apply for public housing as part of the reception and orientation process. This is important given the long waiting times for public housing in many countries;
- ensuring that systems for allocating public housing on an urgent or priority basis are responsive to resettled refugees, particularly those with specific needs;
- providing professional development to housing officers to ensure that an understanding of the experiences and needs of resettled refugees is reflected in placement decisions and administrative processes;
- making specific housing allocations for resettled refugees;
- encouraging housing authorities to plan for resettled refugees with specific housing needs (e.g. extended families, refugees with disabilities).
Subsidies to meet the costs of housing
Some countries offer rental subsidies and grants and refundable loans to meet the ‘up-front’ costs of private rental (e.g. rent in advance, bonds). While in some cases, these programs are targeted specifically to resettled refugees, in many they are part of a broader income support program available to nationals.
- In the UK, a benefit cap is applied to families with more than two children. Local Authorities/resettlement partners therefore consider all possible limitations in terms of welfare benefit entitlements or financial restrictions, before placing a refugee family in a tenancy. This appraisal takes into consideration the Local Housing Allowance and also the restrictions in place for large families. This avoids placing families in housing where the rent is higher than the actual benefits they receive.
- Maximising partnerships with faith groups, churches and charities who may hold housing stock and would like to work in partnership with the local authorities to provide financially sustainable tenancies. This requires ongoing advocacy, awareness raising and trust building through sustained contact. It is recommendable to have one dedicated staff member who liaises with housing agencies and private landlords.
- Photographs and floorplans of properties should be shared with families before arrival so that families know what to expect. The detailed orientation provided immediately after arrival includes information on how to maintain the tenancy throughout the support period and beyond.
A Place to Live, A Place to Stay - A Good Practice Guide for Housing in Refugee Resettlement
This guide provides a comparative overview of housing for refugee resettlement in Europe. It identifies good practice in housing for resettled refugees at the local, regional and national levels and makes recommendations for policy and practice development in the areas of a) national, regional and local cooperation to implement resettlement quotas, b) finding housing for refugee resettlement, and c) housing introduction, integration support and welcoming communities. It includes case study interviews with a private landlord, municipality housing worker and previously resettled refugee;
Good practices in the EU context
Good practice features
Overall, a sound integration program would ensure that:
- there are appropriate protocols and resources in place to provide or facilitate access to long term, affordable, secure and quality housing as soon as possible after arrival;
- relevant players are engaged in the planning process, in particular, refugee communities, nongovernment organisations, government housing authorities, housing associations and the private sector;
- the needs of resettled refugees with particular housing needs are addressed (e.g. bigger and/or extended families, single people, resettled refugees with disabilities).
Specific housing services and programs would:
- provide language assistance;
- provide housing advice and support recognising the importance of other integration elements such as income and social support.