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Syrian-migrant families need two- and three-bedroom apartments, agencies struggle to find them

Agencies scour Ottawa for low-cost housing for Syrian refugees

Families from Syria arrive at the Ottawa airport in late December.
Families from Syria arrive at the Ottawa airport in late December. JULIE OLIVER / OTTAWA CITIZEN

The number of government-sponsored Syrian refugees who land in Ottawa is expected to more than double during the next month to 1,100 as local settlement agencies race to find housing for the newcomers.

In the coming week, about 35 Syrian refugees a day are expected to arrive in the city, said Carl Nicholson, executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, the agency responsible for the initial care of the Ottawa arrivals.

“It’s a very dynamic, fluid situation,” Nicholson told reporters Thursday after a meeting at city hall designed to improve co-ordination between the city’s settlement agencies.

A apartment building at 1240 Donald Street in Ottawa will soon be home to a large number of Syrian refugees

An apartment building at 1240 Donald St. will soon be home to a large number of Syrian refugees.DARREN BROWN / OTTAWA CITIZEN

The Syrian refugees are now being temporarily housed at the Maison Sophia Reception House and at three local hotels, where they’re equipped with health cards, social insurance numbers and banking information.

The big challenge now, Nicholson said, is to find enough two- and three-bedroom apartments for the large Syrian families that have arrived.

Out of the 90 families that have already landed, he said, accommodation has been found for 55 of them. Most of the families have four or five members; about 60 per cent of the new arrivals are children.

“Clearly, they want to live in places where there are concentrations of people like them, but we can’t always do that,” said Nicholson. “So sometimes, it takes persuading. They want to live together: It’s normal. It’s comfort, it’s security in a strange place.”

Nicholson said he expects there to be “clusters” of Syrian immigrants in apartments on Heron Road, Norberry Crescent and on Donald Street, where the landlord of the newly renovated Capital Towers has vowed to reserve 150 apartments for Syrian refugees in two highrises.

Nicholson said he expects refugee families to be in temporary housing for at least three weeks while permanent homes are secured for them. John Lago, president of Q Residential, said the management company expects to pour $15 million into renovating the two apartment buildings over the next three years.  “To us, it’s a win-win situation,” he said Thursday.

Last week, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants appealed to Ottawa residents to make vacant apartments available to Syrian refugees, and launched a website, Roofs for Refugees, to connect willing landlords with newcomers.

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