Afghan evacuees are arriving in Kansas City. Landlords are slow to rent them housing

·4 min read

Kansas City’s Della Lamb Community Services is expecting its first van load of Afghanistan evacuees — 21 people, about six families — this week. And none of them apparently have a place to live.

And landlords here, according to the resettlement agency, are hesitant to rent to these families in search of safe, clean and affordable housing in our city.

No one is accusing Kansas City landlords of any prejudice against these foreign guests, to whom the U.S. has vowed to provide refuge. But there does seem to be apprehension because of what is unknown. Resettlement agencies like Della Lamb say they believe those with property for rent here worry the evacuees may not be good tenants. But of course that guarantee doesn’t come with any renter.

There’s no proof the new arrivals will be bad tenants, resettlement agency officials say. In fact, based on the agency’s experience, the opposite is true.

Kansas City has said it welcomes evacuees. That won’t happen if no one will rent them homes. Housing is fundamental to their acclimation into our community.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Kansas City struggles to provide affordable housing for the hundreds of homeless sleeping on the streets of our city. But these families left homes with a promise of homes when they arrived in the U.S. We agreed to provide that and we should.

After the last few American cargo jets flew out of Kabul’s Hamid KarzaI International Airport — ending what was a chaotic and deadly evacuation that rescued thousand of Afghans fleeing the country for refuge in the United States — Mayor Quinton Lucas said Kansas City would “proudly accept refugees from Afghanistan who have served bravely by our side over the past generation.” And, he said, “we have space for many who have not been able to serve, but who seek freedom to learn, vote, work, and have the equal rights our country offers for women and men.”

Any fears by landlords “are unnecessary,” said Peter Makori, refugee services manager at Della Lamb.

All of the Afghan families coming our way, he said, have been vetted by federal refugee resettlement departments. They have been issued documents for legal resettlement in the country and “they don’t come empty handed.”

A family of five will come with a one-time payment of $5,000. They can pay the rent and they will, Makori said. “We will help them find jobs.” They also will get help navigating a new culture.

Resettled Afghans work hard, lack credit history

Since the rapid evacuation this summer that marked the end of 20 years of war, more than 50,000 Afghans have been living at U.S. military bases across the country.

On Tuesday, a Kansas City resident whose family was part of the mass evacuation from Afghanistan drove to south-central Indiana to retrieve family members and several other evacuees who have been staying at Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck and complained, Makori said, of “deplorable living conditions.”

At least some of the evacuees will stay temporarily with relatives while they are processed through resettlement agencies. And landlords demanding documentation may need to make concessions. “These people don’t have proof of rental history; they don’t have credit history,” said Makori, himself a refugee from Kenya. He came to Kansas City more than 15 years ago.

The families also are being backed by Della Lamb, which has been around more than 120 years and since 2014 has resettled 840 refugees in the Kansas City metro area.

“These people are not going to fail,” Makori said of the evacuees. ”They are hard working. When they find a conducive environment, they will be faithful employees. They will work hard. They know if they don’t work hard, they will become homeless.”

In the next few days and then for months down the road, Kansas City could receive, in all, as many as 750 evacuees. Resettlement agencies such as Catholic Charities and Della Lamb will handle the job of getting them from bases to the city, helping them register for Social Security, sign up for benefits and find jobs.

Ryan Hudnall, the executive director of Della Lamb, said last month that several employers had already reached out to his agency about jobs for evacuees looking for employment opportunities. Now landlords here should step up and extend a welcome to evacuees and rent, at a fair price, homes for their families.

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