Refugees and Fair Housing Law – What every provider should know TODAY

One of the many challenges refugees and their sponsoring agencies face is securing decent, safe and affordable housing near public transportation and employment. For some, western housing construction, layout and systems take some getting used to; that’s a cultural and social issue, and can be addressed with case management. Another issue involves credit and background checks required by most, if not all, landlords and property management companies.

Refugees were in fact responsible and successful homeowners in their native country prior to forced relocation. They can succeed here as well if given the chance. Every refugee receives cash and/or housing assistance for several months after their arrival. They also receive extensive case management and support from local resettlement agencies to secure employment and adjust to life in their new community.

Fair housing law requires housing providers to treat every applicant equally, and that places a burden on them to document credit, rental and criminal history for each applicant without exception. For those who lack any history in these areas, official refugee status (Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act), provides “immediate lawful status with all the rights and privileges of a U.S. citizen (except the right to vote or work for a government entity.)

There is some irony here for all involved; for years, strict fair housing testing and enforcement have had the desired impact on providers, who are now more focused than ever on compliance, and avoid any flexibility or perceived subjectivity in the tenant screening process. Landlords are reduced to using the same yardstick to measure all applicants. When asked now by advocates to treat refugees ‘differently,’ many providers are understandably leery of deviating from the bright line drawn for them by HUD and its enforcement contractors for many years.

Accepting alternate documentation.We all need to expand our concept of ‘documentation’ to remain compliant as this situation evolves. Refugees are brought into this country for resettlement by the U.S. State Department, and carefully screened by the Department of Homeland Security, United Nations refugee Agency. Here are some examples of alternate documentation:

Alternate Documentation

To get the facts and contacts regarding renting to refugees, download:

refugees housing brochure

or contact the following agencies:

Agency for New Americans (208) 338-0033
Idaho Office for Refugees (208) 336-4222
International Rescue Committee (208) 344-1792
World Relief (208) 323-4964
English Language Center (208) 336-5533

See also useful refugee housing/communications resources at: