How the Affordable Housing Crisis Impacts Refugees

The Wait for Housing in New York City

This summer, New York City is struggling to find homes for a record number of asylum-seekers. The city’s “right-to-shelter” protections are meant to guarantee a bed in a homeless shelter for anyone who needs it. With almost 100,000 migrants arriving in New York since spring 2022, the city is meeting the shelter requirement by establishing emergency temporary housing in hotels, school gyms, and office buildings. In late July 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced that there is “no more room” in the city to accommodate additional migrants.

Rising Rents in Madison

The Constellation Apartments, a high-rise apartment building in Madison, Wisconsin.
Corey Coyle, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ongoing shortage of affordable housing is one of many challenges asylum-seekers face in the resettlement process, both in New York and around the country. Here in Madison, rents are rising faster than in any other major US city, according to a recent study by Apartment List. In a competitive housing market like Madison’s, landlords often require prospective renters to provide credit scores and rental history, which puts renting out of reach for many newly-arrived refugees. Autumn Fearing-Kabler, housing coordinator for Jewish Social Services, says that landlords may be more likely to rent to refugees if they understand who they are and how resettlement agencies are providing support in the first months of their arrival. 

North side of the 2500 block of Coolidge Street, Madison, WI
TheCatalyst31, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The situation is especially tough for migrant families, as single-family home rentals and larger 3 or 4 bedroom apartments are particularly hard to find. Between 2020 and 2023, Madison lost approximately 1,000 single-family renter-occupied units because they were switched from rental properties to owner-occupied homes.

Madison Leaders Look for Solutions

Politicians and community leaders in Madison are tackling the issue of housing equity in various ways. Joining Forces for Families and the Tenant Resource Center are collaborating to raise funds for rental assistance and other support for the Latinx immigrant community, including refugees and asylum seekers. On August 1, Madison Alder Amani Latimer Burris (12th district) proposed a task force to address the citywide housing shortage. The proposed resolution will return to the City Council for a decision on Sept. 19.