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Rent To Refugees

An online platform to connect migrant shelters (demand) and their clients to landlords (supply) offering accessible, affordable housing.

Photo of Andrew Pike
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Progressive border politics have largely bypassed a vital component of advocacy for asylum-seekers at the border: if they are let in, if they are not detained or if they liberated from detention, where will they go? Who will shelter them? Who will help them transition successfully into independent living in America? Where will reunited families sleep? As we decry Tornillo’s tent city, family separation in ICE detention, and migrant families dumped by Border Patrol in El Paso’s Greyhound station, we also need to recognize that we have not yet created significant supportive structures for asylum-seekers and migrant folks in this country. An existing model addressing this challenge are migrant shelters, but they are few and far between, and consistently understaffed and overcapacity. With the help of GHR and OpenIDEO, we hope to build a tool to increase the capabilities of migrant shelters to transition their asylum-seeking residents into independent living. We would like build ‘Rent To Refugees’, an online platform to enable US migrant shelters to locate housing for their resident asylum-seekers and forcibly displaced persons in order to a) increase healthy, sustainable post-shelter housing opportunities for migrant people, b) free up more bed space in migrant shelters so that more immigrants can be released from ICE detention c) create community between locals in US cities and their new asylum-seeking neighbors, and d) allow landlords and homeowners to find reliable, hard-working tenants and offer tangible, vital resources to vulnerable people in need of housing solutions. Our teams understanding of the problem is informed through the first-hand experience of our project leader, the Housing Director of Casa Marianella, a migrant shelter in Austin, Texas. The mechanics of how the platform will work will be explored through user research in the next phase of this project. Please see the attached PDF for a visual summary of the problem and our proposed solution.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The initial geography of focus would be Austin, Texas because it is a progressive bubble within a border state. Texas incarcerates more migrants than any other US state, but within Austin there are resources and strong local support for migrant issues. The city is growing and has an increasingly saturated housing market, so affordable housing is an issue in the spotlight. The city just passed a $250MM affordable housing bond and there are many creative agencies working to solve homelessness.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The platform would be a bridge for migrants to find shelter an stability, but also community that can help them assimilate and find joy. Through the platform, the Austin community and asylum seekers would form relationships, which would be a bridge between cultures.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Rent to Refugees responds to the human right to shelter, safety, and a dignified life. This platform would directly aid people struggling to find housing, asylum-seekers unjustly locked up in detention, and people on the border seeking refuge. This platform helps create a sustainable and humane alternative to incarceration. The US is undergoing an existential reflection in which we debate, as a nation, how we respond to people knocking on our door asking for help, how we think about the essentiality of our multicultural identity, how we desire to plan cities, and how we create opportunities to build cross-cultural communities. This platform would explore all of those questions.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Many property management teams strictly require a social security number, government-issued ID, and documented rental and credit history in this country. Often, migrants have had their national IDS confiscated and cannot meet those requirements. Our platform would raise awareness with property management teams about different kinds of identity proof--such as the Border Patrol issued I-94--or a shelter issued ID card with photo. We would cultivate relationships with housing teams that are willing to work with our population of potential renters (out of humanitarian interest to support asylum-seekers or desire to increase the occupancy of renters in their apartment). The Housing Director at Casa Marianella has already established many of these relationships with local apartments and individual landlords. We would work with social service agencies and landlords to help develop alternative forms of “guarantee” that could--in place of credit/rental history--help qualify for housing.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

This idea based upon Housing First, a humanitarian model used all over the world. The idea is that jobs, education, health, recovery, economic advancement, and community can be sought out only once stable housing has been established. Connecting affordable, sustainable housing opportunities to migrant and asylum-seeking people is essential for their ability to stabilize their lives, pursue their asylum cases, learn English, maintain a stable job, get their children in school, and recover from the psychological wounds many of them struggle with as a result of the violence and trauma they’ve undergone.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Asylum-seekers and immigrants often end up living in precarious situations--unofficial subleases or multiple families sharing one small apartment; in order to find secure housing, they often team up with one family member or friend who has the documents required to get an apartment. These situations are often hazardous and unhealthy--so many people in a small space--and unstable; without a lease, it’s hard for them to prove residence for other services or to protect themselves should inter-roommate conflict occur. But these situations are unavoidable for a populace with very few housing opportunities. Many apartments that accept tenants with non-normative identity documentation and zero credit/rental history have notorious reputations. Maintenance requests go unmet and resource-poor residents are powerless against pest infestations and broken appliances. Residents may be fearful of involving the authorities because that could lead to eviction and jeopardize their legal case.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

The Housing Director of Casa has relationships with numerous social services in Austin, the City of Austin, as well as landlords and apartment complexes.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name

Rent To Refugees

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our team is composed of three people: the Housing Director of Casa Marianella, a social entrepreneur, and a software developer. We have a first hand experience working on social issues and developing products for the social sector.

Type of submitter

  • We are individuals who are part of an informal group or collective

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Austin, TX

Attachments (1)

Rent To Refugees Platform Outline.pdf

A visual description of the existing migrant rehousing model, the bottleneck of identifying affordable housing, and the value of the Rent To Refugee platform.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Omotola williams

Great Idea! Shares a lot of similarities with The Village Institute where we create a live/learn/work incubator for refugee women. Housing is becoming more and more expensive by the day and almost unaffordable for refugees.

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