Evicted again 

Boise refugees down to two weeks of rent

One Iraqi family, brought to the United States from war-torn Baghdad and resettled in Boise with refugee status, may soon face an eviction notice at their new home.

In two weeks, Walid and Samira Waheed and their three children will reach the end of their six months of rental assistance. They have no savings, and, largely because of the declining job market, they have not found work. They do not have rent money for March.

click to enlarge Iraqi refugees Walid and Samira Waheed and their two daughters at their Fairview Crossing apartment. - NATHANIEL HOFFMAN
  • Nathaniel Hoffman
  • Iraqi refugees Walid and Samira Waheed and their two daughters at their Fairview Crossing apartment.

"I am happy in Boise," Walid Waheed said. "Please help us."

Waheed is just the tip of the iceberg. More than 1,000 refugees resettled in Idaho in the last year, most expecting to quickly find jobs and become self-sufficient.

But now, with their welcome benefits running out and no work in sight, refugee families are facing the stark possibility of becoming internally displaced people in the very nation that offered them refuge.

"Those that are not working or earning an income and those that are not on SSI [Social Security] income are running out of money," said Larry Jones, executive director of World Relief, one of the refugee agencies that operates in Boise. "I think it's a serious situation—and it doesn't take too much imagination to put the pieces together ... what if we have people that are being moved out of their apartments and we have a snap of cold?"

At the Fairview Crossing apartments on Fairview Avenue, Waheed and another family are two weeks away from missing their rent. According to community manager Barbara Seguin Du Haime, another two families have funding through March, but come April, she will have nine refugee families facing eviction.

"I was just amazed to learn that there aren't solutions out there," she said. "What happens to Boise? Are we going to have tent cities?"

While Waheed lived in a nice apartment in Baghdad, many refugees in Boise have come from tent cities in Asia and Africa.

Three Bhutanese refugees in their 20s who live at Fairview Crossing, are also running out of time to raise rent money. They lived half of their lives in bamboo huts with plastic roofs in refugee camps in Nepal, but have adapted quickly to living with running water and electricity and television.

"It's far better than what we came from," said Narad Ghimerey, a Bhutanese refugee. "But nowadays it is full of worries."

Seguin Du Haime is in contact with both World Relief and the International Rescue Committee, which provides rent checks for refugees for five to eight months, depending on which grants and federal programs they have available. She also contacted some of Idaho's congressional delegation last week to make them aware of this quickly approaching deadline.

It is not something the refugee agencies take lightly, but neither do they appear to have a solution.

"We've had cases on the verge of eviction, but we've been able to help them," said Leslye Moore, IRC's regional director.

Both IRC and World Relief are looking outside of Boise for jobs in the agricultural sector, placing a few refugees at dairies where their housing is provided. They are trying to develop regional handicraft markets and relying on the generosity of churches, the community and, in the end, property managers who will do the evicting.

"This has become humanitarian now," Jones said.

That means agencies—with expertise in resettlement across the globe—are even considering lowering standards of living, which require a clean furnished apartment for each family. And, with record numbers of Americans losing their homes and homeless shelters and low-income housing full, Jones is actually talking about tent cities in Boise.

"Bhutanese refugees say 'why are we wasting their money ... in the camp we had two families in a hut, and it was just fine,'" Jones said.

The U.S. Office for Refugee Resettlement, which grants money to states and to private resettlement agencies to ease refugees' transition to the United States and, ideally, to help them become self-sufficient in four to six months, is operating under last year's budget constraints and cannot grant additional housing money without an act of Congress.

Jones said World Relief is still compiling the numbers, but needs about $5,000 a month to continue paying rent for unemployed refugees.

Moore, at IRC, said communities across the country that have taken in refugees are all facing the same dilemma: a potential wave of refugees losing their housing.

"It's a real possibility across the country," Moore said. "It's almost a question of playing God. Are you going to bring them here to have a difficult resettlement experience, or are you going to leave them there to die?"

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