Calls for more affordable housing as over $426M spent to temporarily house asylum claimants

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Calls for more affordable housing as $426M spent on temporary refugee accommodations
WATCH: Finding affordable permanent homes for refugees is a growing concern in Calgary and across the country. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – Apr 12, 2024

The federal government has spent over $426 million this fiscal year on temporary accommodations like hotels for asylum claimants.

In Calgary, finding affordable permanent homes for refugees is a growing concern.

Over the past fiscal year, from April 1, 2023, to Feb. 29, 2024, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has spent over $426 million on temporary accommodations for asylum claimants. This includes expenditures for accommodations, meals, security, service providers and transportation costs.

There are 126 government-assisted refugees in Calgary now living in a hotel or at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Centre reception house.

That number is down from 2022, when there was a bottleneck trying to move people from hotels to permanent housing.

“We had five hotels and we were full in all the hotels and it was taking quite a long time to move out, not just because of the fact there wasn’t housing in the city, but rather because the number of people that came at once were quite large,” said Bindu Narula, Calgary Catholic Immigration Centre director of resettlement and integration services.

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It’s been a long journey for Wilton Otto, who is finally able to call Calgary home. He fled war in Sudan and lived in Egypt and Hong Kong before arriving in Calgary in March.

“Finally I feel like I’m in a place that welcomes people who are like me without any discrimination,” Otto said on Friday.

“I felt really grateful that Canada is very welcoming to newcomers.”

He’s been staying at a hotel where the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society provides temporary accommodation for refugees.

Otto and his wife went to look at houses this week but he said it’s been challenging.

“It’s not easy from what I see to get good housing. I do tell them (property owners) I’m a newcomer and the first thing you hear is, ‘Do you have proof of income? Do you have employment?'” Otto said.

Narula said refugees stay around three to four weeks in hotels but times vary depending on if they have large families or have accessibility issues.

“We’ve been pretty good because our overall numbers have gone down in the hotels and we have an excellent relationship with landlords in the city,” Narula said.

“We know refugees make really good tenants. Remember the reason why people left their homes is because they’re not able to live there anymore so giving somebody a home back is really important — a  place where they feel comfortable, happy and safe.”

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She said living in hotels is not ideal.

“Whenever you’re in limbo, it causes a lot of stress. It’s not that they’re not comfortable, but the fact that they don’t know what’s coming I think causes a lot of anxiety,” Narula said.

She said rising rents are making it harder for people to find affordable permanent homes.

Narula suggests Calgary could look at solutions that countries like Norway and Germany have been using like repurposing older buildings, using modular housing and adjusting city policy.

“Maybe the city could look at 10 per cent of every new development could be subsidized or affordable housing,” Narula said.

“We had a housing crisis prior to the immigrants and refugees coming into the city. If we don’t get immigration coming to our cities all across Canada, we have a labour shortage that needs to be fixed so a lot of the construction companies that are building these houses actually will not be able to build because they can’t find people in order to work,” Narula said.

IRCC said in a statement to Global News that Canada is “not immune” to the “unprecedented flows of migrants and refugees” in the world.

“To help alleviate the pressures on provinces and municipalities related to providing temporary housing to asylum claimants, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been transferring asylum claimants from their shelters to IRCC-funded hotels across Canada,” it said.

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As of March 11, IRCC has 4,056 hotel rooms in six provinces to provide temporary housing to asylum claimants.

Through the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP), the federal government provides funding to provincial and municipal governments, on a cost-sharing basis, to address extraordinary interim housing pressures resulting from increased volumes of asylum claimants.

IRCC began providing temporary accommodations in 2020 as a means to quarantine asymptomatic asylum seekers who did not have a suitable place to quarantine.

Since April 2020, IRCC has accommodated approximately 51,600 asylum claimants.

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