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Some Afghan Refugees Still Stuck In LA Hotels Months After Arriving

An Afghan boy, around age 9, in a striped shirt walks out of Dulles airport with a masked man following behind him, presumably his father.
A young child carrying his belongings walked out of Dulles International Airport as Afghan refugees arrived last year.
(Anna Moneymaker
Getty Images)
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As the U.S. makes plans to admit refugees from Ukraine, Southern California’s housing crisis continues to pose a problem another group of refugees: Afghan who arrived in recent months.

Some Afghan Refugees Still Stuck In LA Hotels Months After Arriving

Last August’s collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan led to a massive airlift of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. Since then, resettlement agencies have worked to set these families up with things like social services, housing and jobs.

But in Southern California’s tight rental market, finding permanent, affordable housing for Afghan families is still proving difficult months later, said Lilian Alba, vice president of immigrant and refugee services for the International Institute of Los Angeles, one of a handful of local resettlement agencies.

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“Among the families that IILA received and placed into our community, we have between 75 and 80 families who are still in hotels,” Alba said, adding that most of these families are in L.A. County.

The Obstacles

In Orange County, which has been a draw for many Afghan refugees, close to 40 Afghan families are estimated to still be housed in hotels, said Jose Serrano of World Relief in Garden Grove.

The biggest problem is a lack of affordable housing inventory, Alba said. Another obstacle is that landlords, many of whom took a financial hit on rent in the pandemic, continue to be “very cautious about who they're accepting as tenants,” she said.

We've had families who were asked to come up with $30,000 dollars so they could move in
— Lilian Alba, International Institute of Los Angeles

“We’ve had landlords request six months of rent up front, so we've had families who were asked to come up with $30,000 dollars so they could move in,” Alba said.

More Afghans arrived in Southern California last fall and winter, as refugees were gradually released from camps set up at U.S. military bases. Resettlement agencies scrambled to find them temporary housing in hotels, motels, even with host families who volunteered to take them in. Many have by now been housed, but not all.

The agencies are working with nonprofits and community groups to find these remaining families permanent housing. Community groups, churches and other local organizations are still helping them raise funds to help cover Afghan families' move-in costs.

A Looming Deadline

One critical deadline coming up for many Afghans who are still in hotels is their three-month anniversary of arrival, Alba said. Resettlement agencies are funded to cover case management for new refugees for 90 days, by which time — under normal circumstances — they’re supposed to be settled in.

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“With families being in hotels for this long, some of the resettlement funds that we received have been exhausted, so there's a need to continue to secure private funds to help them pay those hefty security deposits,” Alba said.

The goal is to get the remaining families into permanent housing within the next month, she said.

The ongoing housing challenge is happening as the Biden administration makes plans to accept as many as 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the war with Russia. So far, most of those who have entered the U.S. have arrived on visas procured by their families here, or on humanitarian parole obtained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

As local resettlement agencies await more details, Alba said she worries about how they’ll be able to fully support and house new Ukrainian refugees who arrive in Southern California.

“We’re extremely happy to hear that the U.S. will admit 100,000 Ukrainians,” she said. “However, we are concerned about what that looks like for California …. that we just will not have the capacity to provide the adequate support that the families will need.”

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