Bassam Mezar, a refugee from Iraq, comforts his son Mohammed as they prepare to receive the keys of their Habitat for Humanity home in Rio Linda in November. An advocacy group says refugees need more state assistance with housing. Hector Amezcua hamezcua@sacbee.com
Bassam Mezar, a refugee from Iraq, comforts his son Mohammed as they prepare to receive the keys of their Habitat for Humanity home in Rio Linda in November. An advocacy group says refugees need more state assistance with housing. Hector Amezcua hamezcua@sacbee.com

Soapbox

Refugees need more help with housing

By Ramla Sahid

Special to The Bee

December 13, 2017 12:00 PM

During the presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump administration, California’s political leaders emphatically stated their commitment to immigrants, refugees and people of color.

If our state’s leaders want to back their words with action, they must address the unique impact the housing crisis has on refugees.

 
Opinion

The Legislature must include housing in the state’s refugee resettlement plan and provide enough funding so that refugees who are here less than three years pay no more than 30 percent of their household income towards rent.

Now, 100 percent of refugee funding to counties comes from the federal government. Our state does not contribute a single dollar, despite taking in nearly 760,000 refugees since 1975.

In San Diego, my hometown, we’ve resettled more than 86,000 refugees from all over the world who have escaped war, persecution and extreme famine and drought. Moving to a new country with a different language and way of life is not easy, but it is essential for survival.

I am proud to call myself one of them. I was only 5 years old when my family fled civil war in Somalia in 1991. We were among the lucky few who spent a year in a refugee camp in Kenya before we were resettled in Dallas in 1993. Today, only 1 percent of global refugees are ever resettled. The refugee camp my family stayed in has been open for 26 years.

Unfortunately, housing insecurity follows families well after resettlement. Refugees who arrive in California only get three months of initial support. Often, that is only enough to pay the security deposit and one month of rent. To survive, many families double up on housing, live with distant relatives or with other families, as documented in a study of refugee communities who are part of my organization, the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans.

For these reasons, refugee families are among the hidden homeless in our communities. Investigative reporter Tarryn Mento of KPBS found that some refugees in San Diego were at risk of losing their homes because they were placed in apartments that were too small for their families.

This week, we celebrate international human rights. We must raise awareness about the lack of housing opportunities for new refugees and demand a solution. While the Legislature took steps this year to increase affordable housing, it did not address transitional housing for refugees. We need 2018 to be different.

California is the true land of opportunity. Time and time again, we have shown that we care for people and their basic human rights. When it comes to refugees, I am confident we will do the same.

Ramla Sahid is executive director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans in San Diego. She can be contacted at info@panasd.org.