Landlords needed throughout UK to offer homes to Syrian refugees

The Archbishop of Canterbury is preparing to welcome a family of Syrian refugees to Lambeth Palace next month.

But Christians, other faiths and local activists around the country are struggling to find landlords willing to rent homes that will enable the government to meet its target of resettling 20,000 refugees in five years as they flee the horrors of Syria.

The challenge is particularly hard in London and the South East, where local authorities and housing associations already have long waiting lists and the housing allowance on offer from the Home Office under the Syrian Vulnerable Resettlement scheme is hundreds of pounds below market rents.

Latest government figures show that in 2015 and 2016, Coventry has taken the most Syrian refugees, at 105. Nottingham has taken 81, Renfrewshire, 68 and Gateshead 62. According to Refugees Welcome, more than 600 local campaigns have started and more than 700 landlords have offered properties.

To meet the Government target, 5000 refugees need to be resettled in the next two years alone, or an average of 50 with every local authority. 

One churchgoing landlord, Martin Clay, from Tunbridge Wells, told Christian Today how he worked with his local authority to house two Syrian refugees, a brother and sister, in a two-bed flat at £760 per month, about £140 below the market rates for the area.

Clay and other local residents have joined forces to try and welcome more Syrian refugees. 

The siblings he has housed are from Aleppo in Syria and have many other family members still living in Aleppo, Latakia, another city in Syria, and Turkey.

Landlord Martin Clay has housed two Syrian refugees in Tunbridge Wells

"It is a distressing time for them as they have been here since April and the daily toll from warfare is constant and on social media, with pictures of dead children," he said. They are both learning English with the help of volunteers, and hope to find jobs. 

Clay told Christian Today that all the Syrian refugees arriving under the scheme will be thoroughly vetted before they arrive. In addition, housing them was separate from the problem of housing shortages. "As a landlord I am perfectly entitled to decide who I want to let to," he said. "In this case I am prepared to take a hit on the rent in order to get tenants who are decent people in need."

He said the action of his and other groups reflects Christian principles, but also principles embedded in society in people of all faiths and none. "It is about hospitality. It is about seeing Christ in everyone."

Refugees Welcome in Richmond is another group currently seeking landlords prepared to rent a home to a Syrian refugee family. Richmond Council has not yet however formally agreed to take part in the Government scheme. 

At the group's recent launch event, Narin and Nesrin, two teenagers from Syria, described a journey to the UK which included seeing their father captured to be imprisoned and tortured, fleeing their home, being imprisoned alongside their mother and three younger siblings, and massive fear and uncertainty as to what their futures would bring.

The family is now reunited and settled in London.

Narin and Nesrin, teenage refugees from Syria

"Above all, our speakers reminded us of the reality of the war in Syria and its effects, and that we are working together simply to help people who are just unlucky enough to have found themselves in a war-torn place and needing to find safety," wrote a member of the group.

The Home Office said the Government has committed to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme and more than 1,800 people have already been resettled.

"The scheme is voluntary and there has been a tremendous amount of goodwill from local authorities. Some of those authorities have not resettled people in the initial phases of the scheme, but will be resettling people in the future.

"Our policy is aimed at ensuring an equitable distribution of refugees across the country so that no individual local authority bears a disproportionate share of the burden. We are working closely with local authorities to ensure that this remains the case."

Citizens UK is working with Refugees Welcome groups around the country to help recruit landlords to join the scheme and has been campaigning for a year to get local authorities to pledge to resettle just 50 refugees each.

"Many councils are willing, but they need our help to find appropriate homes for families in the private rented sector. We desperately need landlords to join our homes for resettled refugees register."

The Local Housing Allowance Rate will apply in every area with the first 12 months of rent paid for by the European Union under a scheme for placing vulnerable refugees.