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Afghan Interpreters and SIV Holders Face Housing Shortage Upon Arrival

Sanjay Suchak, UVA
Cities like Charlottesville may have housing available, but many corporate landlords will not accept applications without documentation that newly-arrived Afghan SIV holders lack.

Finding housing is an issue for many Virginians, but it’s also presenting an issue for the organizations trying to resettle some of the Afghans coming to the U.S. on special immigrant visas, Virginia refugee advocates say.

Roughly 2,500 Afghans came to Fort Lee, just south of Richmond, to complete their immigration process. These people are coming to the United States with Special Immigrant Visas, which are given to foreigners who assisted the US military.

Resettlement agencies are contracted by the US State Department to help with refugees and SIV holders’ moves once they arrive, such as finding and furnishing housing and assisting with transportation and employment.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has meant fewer people are moving in Virginia’s cities and towns, providing fewer available units to even consider.

“We're putting a lot of people into communities where there's already shortages of rental housing,” said Harriet Kuhr, the Executive Director of Virginia’s branch of the International Rescue Committee. “And many landlords will not work with us. So even if I'm looking at all the housing stock available in Richmond or Charlottesville...the number of properties that will work with us on newly-arrived families is only a tiny sliver of that, so it's even further limiting.”

Many of these Special Immigrant Visa holders have large families, and large space requirements which can be too costly for those on a single income.

Kuhr says increasing corporate ownership of housing also creates issues, since these companies require documentation for rental applications. These Afghans often don’t have a housing history, current employment, or even social security numbers.

“Local people on the ground do not have the capacity to waive the rules.”

A frenzied evacuation from Afghanistan also means rehousing newcomers all at once, rather than over a period of months or a year.

Many more Afghans will enter the US first from Fort Lee, but once their immigration process is complete they are free to go anywhere in the US.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.