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Ukrainian family wishes they were warned about B.C.'s pricey rental market

A sign advertising a rental unit. (Shutterstock) A sign advertising a rental unit. (Shutterstock)

Ukrainians who have escaped their war-torn country are arriving in British Columbia to find themselves thrust into the province's ultra-competitive rental market with little help finding a home.

Dr. Arif Qammar reached Canada with his wife and three children on Aug. 15, and has spent the last two weeks in a desperate search for an adequate two-bedroom home.

"When I go to see a house, there are 15 people, 20 people, 30 people waiting there," Qammar said.

Low vacancy rates in the province's Lower Mainland mean landlords can be picky about their tenants, with many asking for employment records and credit history – something that can immediately disqualify refugees and other new arrivals.

The rental rates that even cramped accommodations can fetch have also left Qammar stunned, particularly after clearing out much of their savings spending about $7,000 on long, zig-zagging flights into Canada.

"I was going crazy," he told CTV News. "For small basements they are charging $2,200, $2,400."

And as they’ve grown increasingly anxious about finding a home, Qammar and his family have nearly fallen prey to online scammers offering to help them settle for hundreds of dollars – an issue acknowledged on the B.C. government's "Welcoming Ukraine" website


Qammar's family of five has been living at a Richmond hotel since their arrival, fully funded by SUCCESS, one of the largest providers of settlement services in the province.

But hotels are supposed to be a temporary measure, and Qammar said he has faced daily pressure to find somewhere permanent – something he has struggled to do, despite repeated calls to a variety of organizations in the province.

Among them is the Maple Hope Foundation, which has helped nearly 70 Ukrainian families settle into B.C. since the start of the Russian invasion, pairing them with Canadian host families and developers willing to provide free rent.

But with no end in sight for the Ukrainian conflict, the war has lost much of the public's attention. Offers to house Ukrainian refugees have dried up, according to Maple Hope Foundation co-founder Svitlana Kominko.

"I think it's human nature – we get used to things, even something horrific like this," she said.

And while Kominko believes the B.C. government has done a "great job" aiding Ukrainians by providing six months' financial assistance and helping them secure employment, she said there is little help breaking into the pricey rental market.

"The province is not assisting them in terms of housing, and that's very unfortunate," Kominko said. "Financial assistance is close to $1,000 a month for six months (for a single adult) – but you know the rental prices in Vancouver."


Kominko said she's seen a number of families arrive in B.C. and scramble for weeks to find housing, only to eventually give up and move to another province – something Qammar wishes he knew before booking his flights.

His message now to others eyeing Canada as they flee Ukraine: "Stay away from B.C."

"They should educate people not to come to B.C. because B.C. has a problem with housing. They should push them to go to maybe Calgary or Halifax or Hamilton or somewhere far from big cities," he added.

The provincial government said it could not comment on Qammar’s family’s situation for privacy reasons, but noted that B.C. Housing is continuously working to help Ukrainians settle in the province.

"Our immediate focus is on housing options when people first arrive. Some of the options available are volunteer host families and short-term hotel stays, while families stabilize and are assisted to connect with a range of services and longer-term housing," the Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing said in an email statement.

"Other organizations involved in housing include the federal government, United Way and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress."

So far, the federal government has approved 216,034 applications under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program, allowing Ukrainians to relocate into the country quickly. B.C. could not confirm how many have come to the province.

Kominko agrees with Qammar there should be messaging warning Ukrainians to consider alternatives to the west coast, but said there’s a good chance it wouldn’t reach refugees in fraught situations.

“Some have very low awareness, or they are so traumatized they are not even thinking properly,” she said. “They just go.” Top Stories

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