A home-sharing platform hopes to connect refugees in need of temporary housing with homeowners who have spare rooms to rent, in an effort to help ease the shelter crisis in Toronto.
The non-profit Happipad, which operates in cities across the country, opened up its Refugee Housing Canada program in the Toronto area last month after initially launching it in Metro Vancouver. The platform has begun accepting applications from potential hosts, who will eventually be matched with refugees from Happipad’s partner organization in Toronto, FCJ Refugee Centre.
The initiative comes as the City of Toronto seeks help to support the roughly 3,500 refugee claimants in its shelter system and after some people were forced to sleep on the streets this summer.
Homeowners willing to rent out a furnished bedroom can register online at refugeehousing.ca to be matched with a recently arrived refugee or asylum seeker, set a rental rate and sign a fixed-term home-share agreement. The program aims to house 1,000 refugees in the Toronto area with funding from the Northpine Foundation, whose philanthropic efforts include helping refugees in Canada.
Happipad says its refugee housing program offers more than just a bed – it also encourages providing newcomers with guidance in the early stages of their new lives in Canada.
“They’ll much more quickly become integrated and be able to independently navigate society in the future," project co-ordinator and volunteer Nikolai Myhre said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the hosts will get to experience different cultures and contribute "to solving a difficult situation in our society,” he said.
Happipad says hosts and refugees will be matched on the platform after identity verification, screening and police background checks are done.
Once the pairing program is in full swing, Myhresaid hosts will be able to post photos of their rooms and a description of the living arrangement, filterable by price.
In addition to securing temporary housing, Myhre said refugees will also be able to build Canadian credit and get a landlord reference through the program. Happipad says the program caters to refugees who currently receive government benefits that can that be used towards rent.
The FCJ Refugee Centre, which has been operating for more than 30 years, says Toronto's shelter situation is still dire.
Tsering Lhamo, the centre's housing co-ordinator, says that every Monday FCJ sees an average of 70 visitors, half of whom are in need of emergency shelter.
“They’re still on the street or they're still in the churches or they're sleeping in bus stops,” said Lhamo, adding that FCJ’s four transitional homes are also at capacity. “Even our living rooms are full.”
MaryLou Lofranco, who was one of Happipad's early registered hosts, is prepared to rent a spare room in her east-end Toronto condo to a new refugee.
The 68-year-old, who splits her time between Toronto and Montreal, said she hosted a Syrian refugee family in 2016 and now wants to help someone else.
“Right now, we’re in a really precarious position. In Canada, if we don’t welcome migrants and refugees we’re going to be in big trouble," she said. "It’s beneficial to the country to have new people here."
Lofranco said she would work out a fair rental fee with the room renter based on subsidies available to refuges such as the Canada Ontario Housing Benefit, which Myher said can range from $500 to $1,500 per family.
Hosts will also have the option to donate their rental income back to Happipad in exchange for a charitable donation receipt.
Myher said the platform’s initiative will ideally be a “long-term” solution for refugee housing.