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Wisconsin agencies struggling to find long-term housing for Afghan evacuees

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Posted at 7:06 AM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 08:06:08-05

Concerns over a lack of long-term housing for Afghan evacuees loom as local refugee resettlement agencies expect to welcome dozens more refugees into the community this winter.

Climbing prices, an affordable housing shortage and process qualifications are adding to the challenge of finding Afghan evacuees more permanent housing in the Fox Valley and Green Bay.

"We're not asking for price concessions, but we are asking for process concessions," said Tami McLaughlin, director of World Relief Fox Valley. "Landlords want people who have credit history, who have work history, employment history, and obviously our refugees are not coming with any of that. We are confident that they will do well and we walk alongside them for as long as it takes to find sustainable employment."
Through monetary donations, World Relief Fox Valley has been able to secure some apartments before tenants arrive. McLaughlin said the donations have also allowed the non-profit to put down double security deposits. Federal funding helps pay forward a couple of months of rent.

World Relief Fox Valley has received 21 Afghan refugees to date. McLaughlin said they are ready to welcome up to 200 evacuees through Jan. 1.

With more people set to enter the community, McLaughlin said she's concerned about housing challenges and hopes more landlords will consider working with the agency to place refugees into homes.

"Our priority is always to find housing immediately," McLaughlin said. "We know winter is coming and people don't tend to move in the winter. So we'll look at some alternatives. Maybe some temporary housing for a while. But our priority is to establish them in a home that they can live in for a year, so they can really feel settled and develop some roots."

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay is facing similar problems when it comes to long-term housing placements for Afghan refugees.

"We continue to be challenged by housing options for our new arrivals," said Karmen Lemke, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay. "We've had some great, creative approaches with temporary housing, and now we're looking for more permanent housing."

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay uses a combination of monetary donations, federal funding and and a community grant through Airbnb to help refugees with housing costs. Once these short-term assistance run out, Lemke said people can turn to WERA dollars, which NEWCAP is administering for rental and utility assistance.

So far, Lemke said Catholic Charities has welcomed 28 Afghan refugees. She said their team expects to receive a total of up to 125 evacuees between now and the middle of February.

Lemke said they hope to find long-term apartments or duplex rentals for the incoming evacuees.

"Some of our next arrivals that will be coming to us are families, larger families. So that means we're going to be looking for two, three, or four bedroom type of rental situations for them," Lemke said.

NeighborWorks Green Bay works with Catholic Charties to help create short and long-term housing solutions. Noel Halvorsen, executive director of NeighborWorks Green Bay, said limited availability of apartments could be one of the reasons finding permanent housing is difficult right now.

He said there are "almost no" apartments available with four or more bedrooms in the entire Green Bay metro area. Halvorsen said there are only a few dozen three-bedroom apartments available, but the median rent for those is about $1,375 per month. Prices are also climbing for one and two-bedroom apartments, Halvorsen said.

With less than 2% vacancy overall, Halvorsen said multiple households may be competing for vacant units. He said housing organizations like NeighborWorks Green Bay will need to work together to gather a team of owners who are willing to set aside units for Afghan refugees and work directly with local resettlement agencies to match households with open apartments.

People interested in assisting with housing for Afghan refugees can call Catholic Charities at 920-272-8234 or visit their website.

World Relief Fox Valley can be reached at 920-231-3600 or through their website.

This report comes from our sister station NBC26 in Green Bay.