Renting to Refugees

Welcome cards made by Afghan refugees

The Renting to Refugees in Falls Church initiative is designed to support partial payment of rental housing for five refugee families in the City of Falls Church, in the next six to 12 months.

Welcoming Falls Church invites the community to think globally, engage locally, and say “yes in my backyard” to refugee resettlement.

Community Discussions Regarding Renting to Refugees

This initiative kicked off publicly with a Roundtable Discussion on Renting to Refugees in Falls Church on Tuesday, March 23, at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library. Twenty representatives of resettlement agencies and key City of Falls Church stakeholders came together to learn about the process of refugee resettlement.

We held a second public meeting on Wednesday, April 6, at Meridian High School. We heard from Holly Herrera, Section Chief in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration/Domestic Resettlement; colleagues from Catholic Charities-Diocese of Arlington Migration & Refugee Services; and members of the community in small groups, about what it will take to make refugee resettlement work in Falls Church.

Our public meetings continued on Wednesday, May 4, back at Mary Riley Styles Public Library. We heard from Emily Norton, Assistant Director of Matching Grant, of the US Council for Catholic Bishops-Migration & Refugee Services. Emily shared this presentation, as we started to learn more as a community about job placement issues for refugees as well as the programs that serve them.

We plan additional public conversations regarding design of and priorities for this initiative at upcoming meetings of our Research & Policy Advisory Committee (RPAC), which meets the first Wednesday of each month, 6:30-7:45pm, at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.

Questions About the Program?

See below for some questions that have been posed about this initiative - and our responses. We look forward to discussions with key stakeholders that will help us flesh out further details regarding how this will work - and to addressing the key issue of housing costs, to enable us to welcome refugee families to Falls Church.

Please email us to let us know if you have questions that are not addressed below – or to get involved!

Renting to Refugees in Falls Church: Background

  1. What is the overall motivation and purpose of the program? To build a community of neighbors, by encouraging Falls Church to welcome refugees. It’s our hope that this program provides the families it supports a good start in our country, mobilizes the community around the shared purpose, contributes to the diversity of the community, and marks the Little City with a distinctive “welcoming” culture that leads to other positive developments in the community.
  2. What are the specific goals of the program? To welcome five refugee families to Falls Church in affordable housing, in the next six to 12 months.
  3. Who is advocating for this program, and why? Welcoming Falls Church is encouraging the entire community to mobilize to support and advocate for this program. In a complicated, challenging world, Renting to Refugees could be a practical, tangible, compassionate response – at modest cost – that serves our neighbors and strengthens our community.

Structure

  1. How many refugee families would be supported? Our goal is to welcome five families to the community over a period of six to 12 months
  2. What is the role of Falls Church City in this program? Welcoming Falls Church is asking the City Council to support the Renting to Refugees program with an allocation of $50-$100K towards rent vouchers in the FY2022-23 budget (or, if Council prefers, to allocate surplus funds from ARPA resources or FY2021-22 to this purpose). City staff would then support the initiative by providing information on its City Committed Affordable Unit program, to support the design of a Falls Church Welcoming Refugees Fund rent voucher program, and with introductions to landlords.
  3. What would be the subsidy per family, and for how long? This will be determined through a dialogue led by the City Council, informed by conversations with refugee resettlement agencies as well as private donors supporting this initiative. As an initial starting point, Welcoming Falls Church suggests that Council consider allocating funds based on plans that rent vouchers average $500-$1000 per month, depending on family size, for a period of 18 months.
  4. What benefits do federal government and refugee resettlement agency programs already offer to cover housing costs? How would a Renting to Refugees program extend housing cost support? Resettlement agencies often cover three to six months of rent through initial resettlement support (a one-time federal stipend of $1,225 per person, to cover personal expenses, is largely intended to cover rent) as well as additional federal government funds (“Matching Grant” programs). A Renting to Refugees program would extend beyond the initial three to six months of rent coverage. The Falls Church program would reduce the cost of rent to offer refugees a smoother on-ramp into the community and American society.
  5. What would be the total cost to Falls Church City and private donors? This will flow from the design of Falls Church Welcoming Refugees Fund and its administration, in consultation with the Council, City staff, and private donors to the initiative. A broad range of illustrative costs might be from $9000/family ($500/month for 18 months) to $18,000/family ($1000/month for 18 months).
  6. Is there flexibility in the program parameters, and if so, what is the range of options? Yes, absolutely, there are lots of options. Policymakers will consider many different aspects of the program, and we should anticipate that the program design will develop based on discussions in the community that are underway.
  7. Are there examples around the country of other programs like this? Yes, there are. The program that is most like this - that we know of so far - appears to be Salt Lake City’s Housing Connect Refugee Employment Supportive Housing (RESH) program. Other cities are taking different approaches. Columbus, Ohio has launched the Afghan Neighbors Rental Assistance Fund, setting aside $50,000 to cover rent costs for Afghan families who have fallen behind on rent. Pittsburgh was the original inspiration for us to think about this issue. Pittsburgh’s Renting to Refugees in Allegheny County program is useful as a point of reference and is very well-documented in a webinar produced by Welcoming America, and Pittsburgh provides us lessons learned especially with regards to its Building a Welcoming Landlord Network campaign – which has attracted dozens of landlord participants. One note, though – because housing costs are so high in Falls Church, our program would be innovative in that it would involve “tenant-based rental assistance” (e.g. housing vouchers) as in Salt Lake City’s RESH program, alongside development of a “welcoming landlord network” along the lines of the Pittsburgh model.
  8. Who will administer the program? The City will seed a Falls Church Welcoming Refugees Fund, which will be administered by Welcoming Falls Church and refugee resettlement agencies, raising additional funds from private donors. Welcoming Falls Church would engage landlords to develop a “welcoming landlord network” (in consultation and hopefully with the support and encouragement of the City, its elected and appointed leaders, and its staff).
  9. Who will fund the program? Welcoming Falls Church’s approach is public-private in character. Along with our appeal for City support, we will encourage private charitable contributions to support the policy objectives of the program. Some residents of Falls Church may be able to volunteer time and energy to support refugee families. Others - as well as corporate donors with ties to the community - may wish to support the program and its families with charitable contributions that enable us to stretch City funding and serve more families. Over time, we think that some grantmaking organizations may view this program’s objectives favorably, so we also hope to apply for private grant support. Depending on program design and funding levels, this public-private structure may result in Welcoming Falls Church administering some funding in parallel to the City.
  10. What are the long-term objectives of this initiative? The initiative is focused first and foremost on making refugee resettlement work in Falls Church. Working with stakeholders represented in our meetings to date – the City of Falls Church Human Services staff, the Falls Church City Public Schools, the Falls Church Education Foundation – and others, this initiative is designed to bring the community together around common purpose. We hope to partner actively in the community to inspire civic organizations, faith-based organizations, Girl Scouts, Cub/Boy Scouts, and others, to make Falls Church more welcoming for the families that participate in this initiative. Long-term? We believe that this will make Falls Church more welcoming for us all–and we also hope to inspire other communities to adapt this mix of policies, tenant-based rent voucher support alongside building a welcoming landlord network, to their communities.