Not Escaping Actuality – Albuquerque Journal
Zac, an Afghan refugee, has relocated to New Mexico with his family and lives there with the help of the mediation service of the Lutheran Family Service. There is currently a great housing shortage for refugees. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Zac is one of the lucky ones.
The 32-year-old Afghan refugee – technically a “humanitarian probation officer” – spent three months at US Army Fort McCoy in Wisconsin before being relocated to Albuquerque, where he and his family were assisted by Lutheran Family Services.
The LFS currently arranges almost all accommodation for refugees who come from different countries – but these are becoming more and more difficult.
The huge demand and scarcity of housing in Albuquerque have created a serious housing shortage.
In addition, the LFS is trying to help a large influx of Afghan refugees. Normally, the LFS would refer around 100 refugees from different parts of the world over the course of a year. It is currently trying to accommodate around 100 a month, most of them from Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, Zac worked as a sales representative for a telecommunications company and as a financial analyst for a construction company before taking up a position as a translator for the US Army. When the US military evacuated Afghanistan and the Taliban became the de facto government, Zac, his wife, and their three-year-old daughter fled the country on a special immigrant visa.
Like many Afghan refugees, Zac is reluctant to give his full name or show his face in photos because the Taliban’s reach is uncertain and reprisals against family members still living in the country are feared.
While he finds solace in the familiarity of Albuquerque’s high desert landscape, which resembles much of his homeland, Zac is not entirely comfortable in his apartment in the southeast of the city.
Grateful to have a roof over his head, he said there is no escaping the reality that where he lives is “not a good neighborhood”.
In fact, the area where Zac is staying is rated by the police as having a high rate of crime, violence and substance abuse. Because of this, Zac had to turn down a job offer in a large department store where he would work late at night and leave his wife and child alone.
“It was far away and I should have walked because I don’t have any means of transport,” he said.
LFS is currently helping with his job search and providing additional support for himself and other refugees, said Jeff Hall, director of the business development program. This support comes in the form of food, mental health services, help with opening a bank account, and getting a driver’s license and government ID card. The organization also helps with access to some government benefits and offers programs in English as a second language, financial literacy and professional skills, he said.
“We have an employment program that allows us to find jobs relatively quickly, especially if they have permanent housing,” Hall said. “Our average time from arrival to our first job is two months.”
LFS provides housing assistance to refugees an average of 90 days until the refugees find a job and should earn enough income to pay their own housing costs, Hall said. You can still get other services through LFS.
LFS is funded primarily by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health. Funding is based on a formula per refugee. But this formula does not help in finding a place to live.
“So the problem now is finding available housing,” Hall said. “We have a variety of community partners that we work with and we are able to bring people into these homes, but the challenge is to work with new partners and find more living space because the need is so much greater than what our current partners have available. “Space.”
The greatest need is housing for very large refugee families – eight to twelve family members in some cases, Hall said. “That means we need houses with four, five or more bedrooms. You just can’t accommodate 10 people in a two bedroom, one bathroom house. “
In addition to problems with family size, the refugee population has other obstacles to overcome, Hall said. “Many of them come with no credit history, no rental history, no employment history, limited English skills, and compete for limited apartments with other applicants who have all of these things.”
This competition often takes place between residents who qualify for public housing or the Housing Choice Voucher program under Section 8, as well as with low-income people moving to Albuquerque from larger states where housing has become even more unaffordable, said Hall.
Until an apartment can be found, LFS is accommodating families in short-term Airbnb rentals and in church-owned buildings of various denominations that have bathrooms and are equipped with beds and laundry facilities, Hall said.
“The financing we have received is housing that we need.”
Linda Bridge, executive director of the Albuquerque Housing Department, said there was “a limited supply” of housing to accommodate refugees, especially for “low-income people.” (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)
The Albuquerque Housing Authority, which manages Section 8 and public housing programs for the city of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, and Rio Rancho, is also feeling the pressures of supply and demand. Over the past six months, they have received more residential voucher renewal requests because people couldn’t find rental apartments and therefore couldn’t use their vouchers, executive director Linda Bridge said.
“I think it has to do with the rising property prices in the market. The inventory of single family homes is limited and prices for these properties are increasing, ”said Bridge.
The single family homes that used to be rented are now being bought for top dollar, resulting in a loss of the rental portfolio. That puts pressure on the rental market as there is more demand for the remaining rental units – and higher rental rates, Bridge said.
“That makes it harder to use home vouchers because we have limits on how much we can subsidize,” she added. “It is particularly difficult for people with low incomes who cannot pay the rent that is customary in the market and who are dependent on rent subsidies.”