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Housing pressures for refugees continue, advocates head to Capitol

Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., on Aug. 27 after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., on Aug. 27 after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

During the legislative session, representatives of Virginians head to Richmond to make their case for new legislation or funding. Wednesday advocates for refugees headed to the Capitol to represent new Virginians and Americans.

Virginia’s existing refugee communities make the state a magnet for those coming to the US for the first time.

"We want to do the right thing. We want people to be with their relatives, but we also know we're not doing people a favor by bringing them somewhere where it could take a very, very long time before we're ever able to find an apartment or home for them that they can afford to maintain," said Harriet Kuhr, the head of the International Rescue Commission in Virginia.

Communities around the state have helped pitch in for housing. Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran of Northern Virginia says that work needs to be met with funding and reforms to get the newcomers jobs.

"Here in Virginia we are working in concert with so many Virginians who have warmly welcomed our new neighbors. And it's been incredibly heartwarming, but the state needs to contribute."

Tran has proposed a bill that would allow trained teachers who have moved to the United States to receive provisional licenses from the Board of Education. Delegate Mark Keam, also a Democrat from Northern Virginia, says that the state should enable local housing solutions.

"By and large, affordable housing is a county and locality issue," Keam said. "Is there something that we at the state level can subsidize and provide to a local county so that they can make more affordable housing available?"

Housing challenges aren’t specific to refugees. Approximately 905,000 households, about 30%, are in homes considered unaffordable based on their income.

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.