As the challenges of finding safe, affordable housing for newcomers arriving in the United States have grown during the past few years, so too have the number and variety of housing innovations. Neighbors, friends, faith groups, towns, and cities have come together in inspiring and innovative ways to ideate, plan, fundraise, and create housing for some of the most vulnerable newcomers. Here are a few of the most inspiring stories.
Temporary Housing Spotlights
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana
When Afghan newcomers began arriving in the U.S. in 2021, Fort Wayne, Indiana had little housing stock available. Already anticipating an influx of newcomers, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend began looking for alternative accommodations. One of their buildings—a convent turned nursing home that had been abandoned for over a year—fit the bill.
Volunteers from nearby counties and myriad faith groups revitalized the building, now called the Cabrini Center. They cleaned the interior, removed items left from its previous use, and organized donations for the January 2022 arrivals.
Catholic Charities has temporarily housed over a hundred Afghan newcomers at the Cabrini Center in the interim between arrival and securing long-term housing. Beyond temporary housing, the center also provides families with English classes, job development training, and community-building spaces.
Opening Doors, Sacramento, California
Shortly after the fall of Kabul in the summer of 2021, Opening Doors in Sacramento, California also began anticipating an influx of newcomers into the area’s already-strained housing market. Identifying affordable housing in such an area requires time, which leads to pricy stays in temporary housing for newcomers.
So Opening Doors innovated a buffer: they rented and furnished a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house to provide temporary shelter to new Afghan arrivals. With the support of volunteers, the Welcome House provided time—between four and six weeks after arrival—to identify and secure long-term housing for these newcomers.
In the beginning of 2023, Opening Doors established another Welcome House for Ukrainian Humanitarian Parolees (UHPs). Because of work authorization and benefits enrollment delays, these newcomers are “one of the most vulnerable populations” in the region, according to Director of Programs, Analee Villalpando. In several cases, when sponsors are no longer able to offer support, UHPs have landed “on the brink of, or [in the midst of] homelessness,” said Villalpando. The Welcome House has offered shelter while Opening Doors searches for long-term housing.
Long-Term Housing Spotlights
Sustainable Sellwood LLC and Catholic Charities of Portland, Oregon
June Reynolds and six of her neighbors in Portland, Oregon came to the idea of housing newcomers “almost by accident.” In no way was it part of their motivation for renovating the vintage 1903 home that they saved from demolition a little over three years ago with their company, Sustainable Sellwood. Their plan, post-restoration, was to rent the home at a below-market rate to up to three families affected by the housing crisis in Portland.
But during the nearly two-year construction process, Reynolds happened upon a post on Nextdoor, a hyperlocal social networking service for neighbors, detailing affordable housing needs in the refugee resettlement space. She connected with a representative from Catholic Charities of Portland to learn more about newcomers. Once the home was fully restored, Reynolds and her partners connected with Catholic Charities to identify newcomers who could benefit from affordable housing in the area.
In March 2022, a family of nine moved from a refugee camp in Cameroon, where they had lived for the greater part of 10 years, to the newly renovated home in Portland.
Local volunteers have helped the family establish a sense of community from day one. They have assisted the family with move-in, grocery shopping, learning English, navigating the neighborhood, and settling into life in Portland.
South Tulsa Baptist Church and Rising Village Foundation, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Two thousand miles east of Portland, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the South Tulsa Baptist Church took on a similar project. In partnership with Rising Village Foundation, the church saved 12 vacant homes that were set to be demolished. Reverend Eric Costanza of the South Tulsa Baptist Church, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Rising Village Foundation, partnered with the local housing provider who owned the homes to lead a rehabilitation effort with the help of volunteers and nearly $50,000 of donated funding (largely from church members). In exchange for funds and donated labor, the local housing provider now rents the 12 units to Afghan newcomer families at below-market rates. And because the homes are in a single neighborhood, Rising Village has been able to place Pashto-speaking Afghan families not only in affordable housing, but in a community.
Interested in Launching a Similar Project? Key Points to Consider
Voice Your Needs
- Resettlement practitioners should take advantage of platforms like Nextdoor and local housing Facebook groups to disseminate information about refugee housing needs. Just as Catholic Charities of Portland, Oregon, connected with June Reynolds to house a newcomer family in need, you too may connect with landlords and property managers eager to rent to refugee populations.
- Volunteers were an integral part of housing construction, setup, and move-in for each of the above examples.
Partner with Faith-Based Groups
- Faith-based groups, such as the South Tulsa Baptist Church, not only have charitable, humanitarian principles, but often own properties that can be refurbished to welcome newcomers.
Consider Alternative Temporary Housing
- Hotels, motels, and Airbnbs are expensive, particularly if they’re used to house many families for extended periods of time. Finding alternative temporary housing possibilities—potentially even identifying and renting a four-bedroom home that could house multiple refugee families, as Opening Doors did—can save money and provide more comfortable accommodations.
Refugee Housing Solutions shares these examples of innovation to inspire replication. If you have questions about any of the projects highlighted above, please reach out to RHS.
And if your organization has identified or created housing for newcomers, please complete and share the Housing Best Practice Toolkit Project Template with email@example.com. By completing this form, innovators can inspire resettlement stakeholders to help address the U.S. housing shortage.