DOES AFFORDABLE HOUSING EXIST IN SILICON VALLEY?
When I first met a refugee family, I noticed how vulnerable refugees are. And yet, they are so grateful for any help. As a Girl Scout leader for my daughter’s troop, I saw how she and her troop sisters helped a Congolese refugee family of eight. They tutored the children in English and Math as well as their homework assignments. As an immigrant myself who was encouraged by people when my parents first moved our family to the U.S., I could relate to refugees. If we assist refugees even a little bit, it can make a huge difference in their lives.
I have been volunteering at PRERNA since the summer of 2016 when a friend asked me to join her at an event. There, I was inspired by three women who are members of PRERNA’s leadership team. Their selfless dedication to help refugees and team spirit were truly contagious, so I signed up as a volunteer and started working with refugee families to assist with food and transportation. As housing is one of PRERNA’s essential programs, I accepted the challenge to lead the Housing team.
Housing is one of the most important services that PRERNA provides to refugee families when they arrive. Finding affordable, permanent housing quickly can alleviate the early financial burden of families who are resettling in the Bay Area. As the Housing Team lead, my role is to find transitional and permanent housing for families who are referred to PRERNA from refugee resettlement organizations such as International Rescue Committee and Jewish Family Services. During the search for housing, we sign up for eligible rentals that have open “wait lists” and pay a holding fee to maintain some of these lists so that we are aware when early housing becomes available.
PRERNA makes sure refugees resettle safely in their new homes through many types of support services. We help with the rental application process and legal paperwork. We also ensure all approvals are met to secure safe housing for the family. PRERNA provides financial assistance with the application fees, first month’s rent and often pays the security deposit. We also help them apply for renters insurance and register for utilities. After the financial requirements are met and forms are signed, our housing team will assist the refugee families with moving into their new homes.
Here are some examples of how our volunteers secure permanent housing for refugees.
- Obtain cashier’s checks to pay for an apartment’s security deposit
- Help family members obtain valid social security numbers
- Ensure rental agreements are understood and signed properly by all the adults in a family
- Justify to landlords that refugee families have sustainable earned income to pay the monthly rent
- Find reliable moving companies to transport necessary supplies and furniture into the refugees’ new homes
Additionally, PRERNA will take families to local grocery stores to purchase food, drinks, hygiene and household supplies. We also introduce them to their new neighborhood and community resources. All these tasks can be overwhelming for a newly arrived refugee family. PRERNA’s volunteer teams reduce the stress and give refugees a positive experience as they begin to rebuild their lives. We guide them with the necessary information and resources they need to begin integrating successfully in their new country.
My most rewarding experience was helping an Afghani refugee family move from a motel in San Jose, California to an apartment in Fremont, California. The Meherzada family arrived in April 2017 and needed help with finding affordable permanent housing. The father, his wife and their three children (all under the age of three) were very grateful for the support provided by PRERNA.
In 2017, we found a landlord in Fremont, California who patiently worked with PRERNA to accommodate several refugee families. The apartment complex now provides long-term housing for over 20 refugees, including the Meherzada family. Our goal is to find other landlords in Fremont and Santa Clara County who are willing to work with us so we can help more refugee families resettle in the Bay Area.
One of the biggest challenges PRERNA faces in the Bay Area is finding low-income, subsidized long-term housing for refugee families in a timely manner. Refugees are allocated a limited amount of funds when they arrive. However, those funds disappear quickly when they must pay for motel rooms.
How can we find low-cost temporary housing and minimize the days they spend there so their cash can be used for long-term housing and other necessities? Where can refugee families stay until they move into a more permanent home? PRERNA is currently looking into partnerships with organizations such as Airbnb for refugee short-term housing. We also seek donations to offset the costs of temporary housing and help families with transitioning into their permanent homes.
Being the Housing Team lead has been a learning experience and I am grateful for the opportunity at PRERNA where I can make a difference in the lives of others. We hope to establish additional partnerships in the near future so we can scale and help more refugees. I’d like to see increased funding for PRERNA, more volunteers and new agreements with landlords and property managers in the Bay Area. This will allow PRERNA to resettle more refugee families, thereby benefitting our community to grow stronger with a greater pool of talent and diversity.
Contact me if you have an affordable apartment or house to rent or know of one that will provide a refugee family a home. I invite you to read more about our housing program and other essential services that PRERNA offers to help refugees rebuild their lives.
About the Author:
Reena Arya is a mother of two teenage daughters and is happily settled in San Jose, California with her husband and two daughters. She is originally from Kurukshetra, a small town in northern India, where she lived with her parents, a sister and a brother. When Reena was 13, her parents moved the family to the U.S. to pursue a better life and education for their children. They were welcomed by an aunt and her family who were already living in California. Reena graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Computer Science degree and was employed in the tech industry for about nine years. After becoming a mother, she began to volunteer in her local community. In addition to supporting PRERNA, she helps at her daughters’ public schools and serves as a troop leader for the Girl Scouts of Northern California.