ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A competitive housing market is causing challenges for anyone looking to rent or buy these days, which is affecting our local refugee population as well.

Not only are apartments hard to come by, affordable housing has especially been a challenge.

Up to two years ago, we’re told a family of three or four could be placed in an apartment in the range of $750 for rent. Currently, that figure reached $900, or over a $1,000 a month. 

“These conditions are absolutely unprecedented,” said Alex Turner with Catholic Charities Family and Community Services.

Turner helps place those in the homeless population, as well as refugees. The vast majority, he said, are from Afghanistan, while others came from Iraq, Sudan and Ukraine. 

“So far, thanks to the really hard work of our refugee programs, and our housing coordinators, we’ve been able to get folks placed, even with those larger families,” said Turner.

Some families can be as large as seven or eight.

Placement hasn’t been easy: more people are in the market for housing, and more being pushed out of housing.                

“Either because landlords have not kept up on the maintenance, so there’s health and safety violations, and they’re looking for a safer or healthier place to be, or you have folks whose rent has been increased,” Turner said.

Ellen Smith, Executive Director with Keeping our Promise works to place Afghan families here in Rochester.  Most families, she said, pay up to 50% of their income in rent.   

“The rents have gone up, but the DHS [Department of Human Services] benefits have not gone up,” she said. “Eight years ago, I could find an apartment for a family of three or four, for $720 dollars a month. That is now $1,050 dollars.”

On average, she’ll be working to place a few families at a time, as they wait in host-housing.

Often times the process is stalled: wait-lists, figuring out a cosigner, or starting a job. Some families are even turned down for not having an email. 

That’s why part of Smith’s job is to advocate for more patience from landlords, and more affordable housing. 

“And they want to be productive and work hard,” said Smith. “I ask landlords to give refugee families a chance, we will work them on budgets, and see how they’re able to afford these houses.”

Both organizations said they would like to see stronger code enforcement from landlords as well. Often times, if a family complains to a code officer about violations that aren’t corrected in a timely fashion, the Department of Human Services will pull their housing grant. 

Catholic Charities Family and Community Services and Keeping our Promise also commit to finding work for these families. 

Keeping Our Promise offers car grants to those who volunteer with them. Smith says many refugees start out driving for Uber or Lyft.