More private-sector to help find housing for Syrian refugees in Calgary

CALGARY – Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says a new infusion of private-sector funds should help address one aspect of the city’s Syrian refugee response that’s been more challenging than expected.

Nenshi says the city was surprised by how difficult it’s been to find big enough accommodations for large families — with many children or multiple generations under one roof.

Community Foundations of Canada announced today that the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society will be receiving $600,000 for direct support to refugee households.

It’s the first contribution from the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees, which was started with $500,000 in seed money from Manulife Financial in December.

Canadian National Railway has donated $5 million to the fund and General Motors has given $50,000.

Nenshi says government and not-for-profit efforts have gone a long way, but the corporate contributions are necessary for the final stretch.

Local real estate firms have already chipped in, offering free rent for the first few months or setting aside discounted units.

“We have seen more very large families than we were expecting, families with many, many children. And the housing for those families, or multigenerational families, has been more challenging than we expected and the supply of four-bedroom homes or larger has been hard,” Nenshi said.

“So in that area, this announcement today will help us a lot in order to free up our access to that kind of housing.”

Following the announcement at a resettlement centre for newcomers in Calgary, a group of children sang a song, ending it off with a cheer of “We love Canada!”

Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said 900 refugees have landed in Calgary from Syria so far — half sponsored by government and half privately.

Another 200 are expected by the end of the month, he said.

Birjandian said refugees have spent an average of about 16 days in temporary accommodation before they’re settled in permanent homes. Right now 150 are in temporary housing.

Birjandian said he expects 500 to 550 refugees will benefit from the Welcome Fund contribution.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship minister John McCallum said given the success settling refugees in the city so far, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we asked Calgary to do a little bit more.”