Afghans resettled in US struggle to find affordable housing

IRVINE, Calif. — After fleeing her home in now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Mozhgan Entazari did everything she could to find a new one for her family in the sunny, palm-lined communities of Southern California.

The 34-year-old mother of two browsed options on Zillow with her husband, while the family lived in a hotel in Irvine, south of Los Angeles. She spent $200 on an Uber ride to view an apartment 90 minutes away only to find it had been rented.

Entazari needed a place not only for his immediate family but also for seven members of his extended family.

In the end, it took four months. On Sunday, they will move into a five-bedroom house in Corona, about 80 miles southeast of LA, which rents for $4,000.

The family’s struggles are emblematic of what tens of thousands of Afghans are experiencing since moving from US military bases to American cities and towns following the spectacular airlift operation of last summer. Many hope to settle in southern California and the Washington, DC area, where Afghans have previously established vibrant communities with halal grocery stores and mosques.

But these communities are also among the most expensive housing markets in the country, and homes, especially those suitable for the often larger Afghan families, are in short supply. Resettlement agencies report that it takes longer to get refugees out of temporary accommodations like hotels, Airbnbs and churches.

Entazari will share a roof with her husband and children, as well as her mother, teenage sister and brother and her family.

Without a job, credit history or co-signer, she said finding housing was incredibly difficult. And without an address, she said she and her husband couldn’t find jobs and her children couldn’t enroll in school.

“Our whole life depends on housing,” Entazari said in Farsi through a volunteer interpreter.

They had to pay two months’ rent to move in and are receiving help from an organization that will finance part of the monthly rent until next year.

The search for homes for Afghans comes amid a tightening housing market as the United States emerges from the pandemic. The national rental vacancy rate fell about one percentage point, to 5.6%, in the last quarter of 2020, according to recently released U.S. Census data. Typical U.S. rent rose nearly 16% to more than $1,850 in January from last January, according to online real estate market Zillow, which launched an effort in November to help connect landlords with Afghans. newly arrived.

In northern Virginia, Ahmad Saeed Totakhail was lucky enough to find permanent housing in Dale City, a suburb about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Washington.

His sister, who hosted him until he got his own place, lives there. He was hired to work in nearby Arlington, by the same nonprofit that employed him in Kabul.

The stunning mosques and many Afghan restaurants in the area softened the blow of leaving his homeland. But he was shocked by the high price of his family’s shelter – $2,000 a month for rent.

“It’s quite expensive,” he said. “I have friends here. I have my family here. But we never discussed the economy.

About half of all Afghan immigrants to the United States, many of whom came decades ago, live in five major metropolitan areas – Washington, Sacramento, California, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, according to the Migration Policy Institute . As a result, these areas are often attractive to new Afghan arrivals, and many mention the names of relatives or acquaintances who already live there as contacts when resettlement agencies consider where to send them.

But with some 76,000 Afghans arriving in the United States since the Taliban took control of their country last year, many of these cities are reaching saturation point, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and chief of the leadership of the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service.

The relocation agency has partnered with Airbnb to provide temporary housing while talking with property management companies to find a more permanent solution. They opened offices in more affordable markets to meet housing demand. But places must also have a robust labor market and institutions and businesses that support Afghan families, such as mosques and halal markets, she said.

The US State Department says it does not know how many Afghans are in temporary accommodation. The top states for Afghans arriving after the Taliban takeover are Texas (nearly 10,500); California (over 8,200), Virginia (over 5,100) and Washington (over 2,800), according to State Department data.

Near the nation’s capital, Lutheran Social Services has helped settle more than 4,000 Afghans since last summer. For many, the benefits of a community that feels like “a second Kabul” outweigh the high housing costs, said Zabi, housing coordinator for LSS and a relatively recent Afghan refugee who asked to be identified by nickname. as he still has family who may be targeted there due to his previous work with the US military.

Zabi is working to convince landowners and landowners in the region that Afghan refugees are worth giving some leeway.

“They will pay their rent, for sure,” he said, adding that many find jobs quickly, with help from the agency and the existing Afghan community.

In Newburyport, Massachusetts, churches opened to temporarily house four Afghan families. Rev. Jarred Mercer said helping them establish permanent roots is daunting given the high cost of living in the affluent, largely white community near the New Hampshire state line.

He and another pastor are working with city officials and hope to get local landlords and nonprofits to participate in resolving the housing issue. In the meantime, they have raised funds and formed volunteer committees to coordinate everything from teaching English classes to driving families around town.

“They’re increasingly entrenched in the city, especially the children, and it would be even more traumatic to uproot them and start the whole process over again,” Mercer said.

This has happened to several Afghan families who have been asked to try out a new location after months of searching for a home in Southern California, said Sonik Sadozai, an Afghan Refugee Relief volunteer.

Sadozai, who arrived in the country as a refugee four decades ago from Afghanistan, said she had been doing this work for years and had never faced so many obstacles.

She said she was able to help Entazari and her family leave the Irvine hotel in part because of luck: An Afghan she helped find accommodation four years ago contacted her about from a Syrian friend who had a house to rent.

But she fears she may not be so lucky with the more than 100 other Afghan families she is helping in their search.

Many pandemic-affected landlords are asking for the first two and last two months of rent up front — a big challenge for arriving families, especially those who need larger units, she said. declared.

“I have a family of 13,” she said. “Where am I going to send them? »

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