Techfugees Toronto is launching The Housing Network Pilot Project this summer in collaboration with the Toronto-based refugee settlement organization, Romero House. Through this project, Techfugees Toronto aims to develop a digital service connecting refugee claimants to access vacant houses, or apartments. In order to meet this objective, the chapter is reaching out to housing providers across the GTA to identify individuals and companies who are willing to provide short-term or long-term housing to refugee claimants. The aim is to support Romero House by using this vetted list of housing providers to help clients transition from temporary to affordable, suitable permanent housing faster.
Techfugees Toronto arrived at the idea of connecting refugee claimants to housing after collaborating with settlement organizers, refugee claimants and experts supporting housing policy and research in a workshop in December 2020. A major takeaway from this session was that there is a need to forge stronger connections between housing providers and settlement organizations, as housing providers are often missing from the conversation on how to improve access to permanent housing for refugee claimants. The Housing Network Pilot project intends to close this gap by sourcing suitable housing providers for refugee settlement organizations and shelters, and developing strategies for community relationship building.
Interested in joining the project as a housing provider or learning more about the project? Set up a 15-minute conversation with Techfugees Toronto by filling out this contact form.
Access to Affordable Housing in Toronto
Toronto has been experiencing a housing crisis for several years. The demand for affordable housing outweighs the supply of homes available for rent. Unlike the provincial and federal definition of affordability, which states that rent should not exceed 30% of gross annual household income, the City of Toronto’s affordability definition is stated to be below market rent value. This definition is problematic given that “between 2005 and 2015, one-bedroom apartment rents increased by 20%, while Toronto median household income increased by 5%” . As part of the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, the City of Toronto will change the city’s affordability definition to match the 30% or less household income metric employed elsewhere in Canada.
While the need for affordable housing extends far beyond newcomers to Canada, refugee claimants experience some of the hardest housing challenges as they do not receive the same support as sponsored refugees or permanent residents. The focus on refugee claimants is important because prior to COVID-19 in 2019, Canada received 64,000 in-Canada refugee claims, the highest annual number on record. Many of these claimants are still looking for permanent places to live in Canada. Discrepancies in financial, social and emotional support are illustrated in the chart below. Techfugees Toronto created this chart based on public government resources on refugee status types and through interviews with professionals in the settlement space.
This chart points to a clear gap in services for refugee claimants upon arrival, which is particularly troubling given the spike of refugee claims in 2019, as well as the affordability crisis in Toronto. This lack of services is likely related to the number of common barriers identified by refugees and supporting settlement organizations when it comes to finding housing. These barriers make it even more difficult for refugees to be competitive tenants in a housing market with limited availability:
- A lack of social network upon arrival, making it more challenging to find housing through informal networks as well as co-signers or guarantors
- No credit score upon arrival, which is considered a requirement by many housing providers
- Language barriers and difficulty corresponding with housing providers independently
- Income received from government subsidization programs such as OntarioWorks can be considered insufficient by housing providers as these subsidization programs typically offer stable but inadequate amounts of income given the rental market
- Affordable and suitable permanent housing for large families is difficult to come by, which often delays the transition from temporary to permanent housing
- Long wait lists to join affordable housing programs across the country (the wait list in Toronto is 10-15 years)
- A lack of knowledge of resources and professionals to support finding affordable housing
In our interviews with housing providers and property managers, many were empathetic toward the challenges that refugee claimants face in finding housing and were confident in refugee newcomers’ ability to successfully start fresh in Canada. As one member from the Greater Toronto Apartment Association stated “[support given to] refugee claimants is usually a hand up and not a handout”, clearly stating that housing providers are often eager and willing to support refugee claimants. Unfortunately, providers also face restrictions in how they can help, reminding us that financial measures such as the credit scores, proof of income that aligns with the acceptable affordability ratio (less than 30% of total monthly household income) or a guarantor that can co-sign if this affordability ratio cannot be met are all necessary, non-negotiable aspects of a rental application. These financial measures are extremely prohibitive for many individuals and families. For example, a four-person family who is subsidized with a $1700 Ontario Works monthly stipend will have a hard time finding an apartment to rent in a Toronto market with an average of $2000 a month. With this project, we aim to create a network that helps break the barriers refugee claimants face by connecting settlement agencies with housing providers that are willing to help despite the strict requirements they may need to uphold.
Techfugees Toronto and Romero House invite any housing providers, property managers or people who are interested in supporting refugee claimants to find housing to connect with us to find out more about The Housing Network Pilot Project. Through this network, we aim to expand Romero House’s list of housing contacts so that the organization can more readily refer clients who are looking for permanent housing. The project has the potential to expand to other settlement organizations in Toronto in the future.
If you are interested in joining our network or know someone who is, please fill out our contact form or reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org