An Edmonton apartment. Photo Credit: Kurt Bauschardt courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

By Jibril Yassin – 

While Alberta prepares to help provide support for Syrian refugees, the question of where to house them hangs in the air.

The federal government’s plan to settle 25,000 refugees means somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 Syrian refugees will relocate to Alberta by year’s end. The current count of refugees in Alberta total close to 2,000, all concentrated in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.

Earlier this month, settlement agencies in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa asked the government for a temporary delay in the arrival of refugees as they struggle to find housing for them.

Agencies in Alberta have yet to submit a similar request despite encountering challenges. In Calgary, a lack of rental units for large families (and limited resources in the budget provided by the federal government) means settlement groups are finding it difficult to relocate families of ten or more. Fariborz Birjandian, involved with Calgary Catholic Immigration Services (CCIS), told the CBC they already felt the city could not afford to house more big families.

“[T]he only request from the community for the federal government [was] to address the housing before bringing people here” he said. “They ignored it somehow, and now suddenly they send us a family of 10. I just don’t understand.”

This need for affordable housing is growing in Alberta. According to the Edmonton Journal, more than 4,000 low-income families are currently on a waiting list for social housing, with over 600 of them considered high-risk that will be considered top priority. This is more than triple from just over a year and a half ago. As several critics have pointed out, the federal government’s decrease of funding in affordable housing along with a lack of homes built for low-income families by the private sector have resulted in a housing crisis that many are trying to fill.

Immigration Minister John McCallum took caution when discussing how best to incorporate Syrian refugees into these waiting lists.

“We want to welcome all of these refugees with open hearts and with love the way Canadians have, but at the same time we are mindful that we don’t want to offend Canadians who have themselves been waiting for a long time for social housing and things of that nature,” he said in a news conference in Ottawa last month.

With an unemployment rate now at 7.4 per cent and a new low in oil prices, Alberta looks at a grim year ahead in the housing market, with the price of housing to drop several points for the first time since the beginning of the global financial crisis. Massive layoffs in the energy sector have made their impact in the real estate market, with many former oil workers selling their condos now that they can no longer afford them.

“The oil prices have really hit us hard here,” Krista Reiach, franchise owner at PropertyGuys.com, told the Globe and Mail. “Every day is just more news of how much harder it is and how many more jobs are lost. People are just leaving.”

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