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Investigation: San Diego Refugees Face Housing Dilemma

July 27, 2017 1:27 p.m.

Investigation: San Diego Refugees Face Housing Dilemma


Tarryn Mento, City Heights reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: Investigation: San Diego Refugees Face Housing Dilemma


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego County resettled more refugees than any other region in that U.S. This high cost of living and tight rental market a take a toll on the new arrivals. Three families told KPBS a resettlement agency staff encouraged them to falsify lease documents to find housing. City Heights reporter Dixon to the problem.Syrian refugee said he spent the first month and San Diego living in two motel rooms with his wife and six kids.The state became law. There was no choice for the organization. We wanted to leave but did not know where to go. The organization is that international rescue committee in San Diego. IRC staff placed his family in a motel while they searched for a permanent place. They are local resettlement agency that uses federal funds to cover housing and needs for up to three months after refugees arrived in the U.S. Abdullah says it took 35 days to find an affordable two-bedroom. He was happy with the space but just before he went to sign the lease, he claims and IRC staff are stopped him and said not to show the government papers. The documents provided identify all eight members of his family by name, date of birth and photo. A review of the lease shows not all of them were listed on the rental documents.She told us not to show the IDs because we did not register your whole family. We registered six people, not eight. They said it was cheaper this way but it could be breaking landlord rules and goes against guidelines that the IRC has said it follows. The government recommends two people per bedroom plus two additional documents. Only six people in a two bedroom, a family of eight should be in a three bedroom. Abdullah signed the lease even though it was missing two names. Any occupants not disclosed could be considered a material violation.At any moment, any minute, they can kick us out because of the sly. This is a serious matter.A five month investigation found other refugee families living with more people in the apartment than appear on the lease. That is a potential dealbreaker. Three families claim RC staff directed them to sign that inaccurate documents in order to get them into smaller and cheaper apartments. The families arrived late last year following a surge of refugees when new arrivals rose from an average of 250 per month to three times that number by the fall. The RC affiliate declined an interview about the cases. The local executive director denied his staff purposely omitted information on rental documents. The policy is to list all occupants on the lease. The RC national office sent KPBS a statement saying a part, we are concerned about the reports and are investigating the situation. The federal government gives agencies like the IRC $1000 per refugee to cover the basic needs for the first few months. Finding affordable housing in San Diego can be tough for any low income resident but particularly for refugees who arrived with no credit and may have large families. University of Chicago flesh -- lecturer studies this. She said resettlement staff may have just been doing the best they could with what they had.If that is the only solution they thought they had to offer this family, we are not giving them enough resources to work with.Although federal funds have slightly increased over the years, she claims they have not kept up with the needs. The paper on resettlement in Chicago found caseworkers at one agency routinely sacrificed quality for affordability. Mohammed says he still is worried he could get kicked out of his apartment at any time. If that happens, he is not sure what he would do. There are members out there who are helping. Tomorrow, we will introduce you to a family that was asked to leave the apartment and tell you how the community went about finding them a new home. KPBS news.Tarin had more to share. She spoke with Andrew Bowen for the podcast series, San Diego stories, deep die. Here is part of that podcast with Andrew Askin Tarin about the director of the international rescue committee but one thing he did tell you in an email was that he was concerned about anti-refugee coverage. Everyone is familiar with the fact that that does exist. The RC does a lot of good work in the refugee community. Are you worried that this could give ammunition to people who are opposing refugees ?That was something that we brought up and I was discussing with the researcher. Jessica is at the University of Chicago. I was speaking with her about this. We cannot really let the atmosphere dictate what we report if someone says I was resettled by an agency that uses federal dollars and I did not feel like they were doing -- doing that efficiently. You look into that. When they offer you documentation, you take it to the agency then we printed what the agency said in response. I talked about this issue. What does that mean for opponents of Russian -- refugee resettlement? I mean, that is not something we can control. She did have a comment because she researched the challenges facing resettlement and she does have to highlight efficient ways that people have to do their jobs.My concern is that anything that is written that provides structure, it provides fuel for those who would restrict or constrain the program. I would like to see it improve. I would like to see a more robust program that is given more resources to do the job better. My concern is that by highlighting challenges of the program, fuel is given to those who would do a way with the program. I feel an ethical responsibility, I feel a tremendous responsibility to highlight that these are human beings who have been given a political designation. And to highlight that this is a government responsibility. Also continue to insist that we do our job better as a country and not that we continue to ask strapped organizations to do more with less with this incredible vulnerable population.If the American government is going to participate in resettling refugees. The American government should step up and make sure it is doing the job well and highlighting challenges is part of a way to make sure it is done well.I said that San Diego settles more refugees than any other region. First of all, let's let that sink in. That is astounding to me. Giving that housing cost is so high and the cost of living is so high. Why are we such a huge center when the dollars could go further in places with lower housing costs ?San Diego has a long history of accepting refugees. It got started around the fall of Saigon when people were shuttled out and brought to Camp Pendleton. You have so many Vietnamese coming here in need of placement and services because they were dropped off here. It became the natural progression of groups that were supporting that. That led to other waves of groups that were coming here, depending on what the horrible circumstances were that people came here. It has a history. It has services available. There are different groups with each wave of ethnic group. There is a new nonprofit that pops up, even with the Syrian refugees. There are grassroots efforts to support the refugees even though the dollars may not go as far but there is a lot of support you expect there is another challenge, it is other than the cost of finding housing and that is community support. We hear stories in Minnesota with Somali refugees and people not wanting them in their community but in San Diego that is not the case. Setback they have the opportunity to build a community here. When the resettlement agencies figure out where people go, doesn't already have a culture? Incident ago, they are so open to taking in refugees that there are a lot of different cultures here that when you want to make sure the refugee has the best chance to moving on and becoming a contributing member of society, you look for the other support systems. Inevitably the federal governing -- money does and and they have something here.What is next ?The IRC national said they plan on looking to this. The State Department plans to look into this. I do not know what will come from that. Hopefully they are open to responding to questions about how the inquiries are going. I do not know what they provide. I do not know what they will find or if there are lessons learned or if anything will change. We will have to keep our eye on that and watch in see, does the flow of refugees pick up? Do we have enough resources? And it is also housing stock. Do we have enough housing stock to house large families ?You heard Andrew Bowen and Taryn talking about podcast zero, San Diego stories, deep dive. You can hear more of their conversation by subscribing at .