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Healing urban refugee trauma by enabling them to have a "home" again in host countries

A Program for apt. rent subsidies & rent-to-own (medium term) in host country urban settings can provide a healing sanctuary for refugees

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

We firmly believe that providing affordable housing to refugees who have lost their homes is a critical intervention. Keeping refugees in ‘camps’ or ‘refugee shelters’ year after year is neither a sustainable nor healthy solution. Yerevan Armenia is a city that has excess absorptive housing capacity. Our idea is to initially use a rent subsidy program via a local NGO to provide a "safety net" for 1-2 years. Then -for refugees who found local employment & would like permanent housing- design a rent2own program to allow them to purchase apartments with no interest or low interest loans over a 5-10 yr period. Affordable housing allows refugees to feel safe and @ home again, and creates family stability and better childhood outcomes. Once proven, this prototype could be used to attract global impact investing funds capital or peer to peer lending to scale the solution. This program can then be transferred into many host countries where refugees are finding refuge. Besides enabling refugees to attain a home, the program will be designed to also have aligned mental health assistance and monitoring. The combination of a "home" + "in-home therapy" provides a meaningful impact.

WHO BENEFITS?

15k Syrian refugees in Armenia are our initial pilot site. We are designing this solution for urban refugees who need affordable housing & who have been traumatized by the war in Syria. The program's phase1 assists with short term rent subsidies to augment UNHCR initiatives. A medium term Rent2Own more sustainable solution can transition current beneficiaries into home ownership @ same payments.

PROTOTYPE

We've already partnered with Oxfam in Armenia and also signed an MOU with UNHCR to test the rent subsidy program. It successfully launched in February 2015. Our research is showing that refugees are spending a large part of earned income on rent. We'd like to prototype the idea of allowing refugees to rent to own. We can do this by (1) buying 1 apt and listing it w UNHCR's operating NGO (2) drafting a legal agreement to allow refugees a 5 year rent 2 own scheme, (3) providing a trauma therapist to the household (for first 6 months) to measure impact of having a home again, design a site to in-take applications. The cost to buy an apartment will be $20,000 USD (note if the family returns to Syria before the "loan" is paid off, their contributions will be considered normal rent). The cost of providing a therapist to the household would be $50/month X 6 = $300. The cost of engaging local counsel to draft a rent to own lease would probably be $500. Total $25K, including program costs.

FEEDBACK

We started by conducting field research on our users last summer in Armenia. We kept hearing that affordable housing was a traumatic issue to urban refugees with limited funds. Our first feedback came from the potential users. We then started meeting with other stakeholders (Oxfam, UNHCR, Gov. of Armenia, local Syrian NGOs) and refined our ideas around housing. For example, we realized that having a "safety net" program that provided short term rent subsidies was a necessity as new refugees kept coming to Armenia every week. We also realized that many refugees did not mind paying rent if they were paying towards owning the home. After initiating our pilot we started seeing that placing urban refugees in urban homes in the host country allowed them to function again, and alleviate trauma. We now intend to host a workshop in October 2015 to get more feedback from experts, look @ data and work on sustainable solutions. Many refugees would like to have new homes and start a new life

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We need help with the following: (1) Legal best practice on a rent2own agreement (2) Designing an "refugee friendly" intake website to encourage applicants (3) partnership with UNHCR to pilot such an urban housing program, (4) partnership with IKEA to provide household furnishings when refugees move in, (5) psychology expertise on designing therapist visits to address PTSD & (6) fundraising skills on how to tap on funding. Last, we need "Impact investing" expertise to frame the solution to scale

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am a social entrepreneur that started an alliance within the Armenian Diaspora to assist Syrian refugees that took refuge in Armenia ( see http://www.armenianredwoodproject.org). I have been working on this for 1 year and have assembled a partnership with a local NGO to deliver the service.

IS THIS AN IDEA THAT YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION WOULD LIKE TO TAKE FORWARD?

  • Yes, I have implementation capacity and am interested in and able to make this idea real in my community.

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Team

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Inspiring initiative Raffy! This rent-to-own approach is a great way to help Syrian refugees get acclimated into their host communities. The in-home therapy component of this program is also an intriguing way to assist the difficult transition period of refugees. Is there a job placement service or vocational training program that's integrated into this idea to help refugee families secure a stable income? How are current refugee families in Yerevan meeting their monthly rental fees? Also, how might this approach scale without needing to purchase rental properties to start with?