Damaris Rose

Damaris Rose

Sidney Smith Hall, Room SS5017 | 100 St. George Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 3G3 (map)

Finding housing for refugee newcomers in Canadian cities: the experiences of Resettlement Assistance Program workers during the 2015-16 Syrian resettlement operation

The federal government’s Syrian refugee resettlement initiative was the largest in 35 years. Implemented immediately after the fall 2015 Liberal election victory, under the banner “Welcome Refugees”, it was not only a material commitment but also a reassertion of humanitarian responsibilities as a element of Canadian identity. A key plank in this operation was avoiding temporary barrack-type accommodation and moving the newcomers directly to their destination cities, where civil society organizations and groups would help them settle quickly into permanent housing. Media spotlights were soon cast on how this could be done for 25,000 refugee newcomers over 4 months given the scarcity of affordable rental housing in most of Canada’s large and mid-sized cities. Once the arrivals were under way, it emerged that large and complex family configurations and particular health needs were more prevalent than expected. Through analysis of qualitative interviews, conducted a year after the peak arrival period, this talk focuses on how the newcomer service-providing organizations under government contract to deliver the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) handled the task of finding suitable and affordable permanent housing for government assisted refugees in cities across Canada. Key but little-studied actors in the refugee resettlement system, the RAP-providers have a closer working relationship with the federal state than do most community-based newcomer-serving organizations, but within the confines of a neoliberal funding model. What challenges did they face in finding suitable and affordable housing? Although most have a long experience of this work, did the Syrian operation lead them to deploy new tactics? Did new sources of help and forms of collaboration emerge out of these experiences? This research was funded under a “targeted rapid response” initiative of SSHRC and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

About the Speaker: Damaris Rose (MA, Toronto, 1978:PhD, Sussex, 1984), an urban social geographer, recently retired from the Urbanisation Culture Société research centre of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, an affiliate of the Université du Québec. She taught urban social policy and research methods courses in the urban studies graduate programs. She has conducted research in housing, gentrification and neighbourhood change—often from a gendered perspective, and on the housing of newcomers, in the context of Montréal and other Canadian cities. Now an Honorary Professor at INRS, she continues her academic activities on a part-time basis.