Property owners step up to house Afghan families

Five women stand in front of apartment building
ReWA partnered with Low Income Housing Institute to house refugees.

Finding a home for a recently arrived refugee is tough. Most have no rental or credit history and few have yet to find a job. To find them housing takes a landlord who is willing to adjust their application process for refugees. So, when ReWA was asked in February to find permanent housing for fifty Afghan families within 3 months, it was a challenge.

Washington state was one of the top five destinations for the 79,000 Afghan refugees arriving in the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Driven by Gov. Inslee’s commitment that Washington be a welcoming state, by early 2022, some 3,000 Afghans had arrived in the state. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) sprang into action, securing temporary hotel space in Tukwila and across the south Sound.

DSHS then contracted with several community-based organizations, including ReWA, to find housing for this unprecedented influx of refugees.

ReWA senior program director, Crisann Brooks, said it’s been difficult to find property owners willing to accept tenants without rental or credit history. “Some landlords experienced financial hardship due to the eviction moratorium, so they are leery of loosening rental requirements for new tenants.”

To overcome these barriers, ReWA reached out to partners, old and new.

Existing partners—and new ones

ReWA’s executive director, Mahnaz Eshetu recalls, “Not long after the evacuations started from Afghanistan, I reached out to our partner, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), to see if we could work together to provide housing.” Within a few days she said LIHI had pledged 22 units to ReWA in their newly-opened George Fleming apartments, located in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood.

By April, ReWA had partnered with other apartment complexes in south Seattle and the South King County region who agreed to loosen rental requirements and accept a “pledge letter”, guaranteeing six months of rental payments. Among these partners was Willow Crossing, an affordable housing corporation with properties in Seattle, Alaska and Montana.

Alexa Humann is the property manager of Willow Crossing in Othello. She said they serve many low-income tenants and others in need of housing. “We work with people in transition. That is what our housing is for.”

Brooks said, “Willow Crossing was absolutely fantastic. They took pledge letters, accepted abbreviated applications, and worked to house many families. They were very welcoming and easy to work with—they are the best.”

Humann said Willow Crossing is grateful to be able to assist people who are in need of housing. “We are used to working with clients who are still learning English, so we rely on Google Translate to communicate with tenants.”

entrance to willow crossing apartment building shows planters and modern grey facade
Willow Crossing is affordable housing corporation that worked with ReWA to house refugees.

By May 31, ReWA housed 50 Afghan families in three different affordable housing complexes: George Fleming, Willow Crossing and Creston Point. Brooks said, “Now that they have been resettled, we can focus on providing other services: English classes, job search, early learning pre-school, citizenship classes and immigration legal services, as well as providing access to domestic violence support, counseling, and after-school programs for youth.”

At a gathering of ReWA staff who helped find resettle families and find the housing, Brooks pointed out that accomplishing this task was no small feat—it took long hours and many people to support these families, who have already sacrificed so much as U.S. allies.

ReWA housing case managers gather to celebrate finding homes for 50 Afghan families.
ReWA housing case managers gather to celebrate finding homes for 50 Afghan families.

Brooks added, “There were so many partners that worked diligently to make this happen. It takes all of us pulling together in partnership to resettle our newcomers and to help each family or individual feel welcome, safe and secure. It is an honor to be a part of this wonderfully successful collaboration.”