Ukrainian evacuees arrive to housing scarcity

Ukrainian evacuees arrive to housing scarcity

Visa status comes with pressure to replenish depleted resources
Monday, April 25, 2022
By Barbara Carss

A combination of short-term and long-term housing and other community-based facilities will be required to accommodate upwards of 70,000 Ukrainian evacuees expected to arrive this spring on Canada’s expedited three-year visa for those who have been displaced or endangered due to the Russian invasion. Groups leading the effort to receive and settle these embattled newcomers are coming together with the commercial real estate industry to mobilize supports.

“We’re all bridges to homes. We’re all bridges to jobs,” Michael Brooks, chief executive officer of REALPAC, observed earlier this month during an industry-organized online discussion to garner insight from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), the League of Ukrainian Canadians and other agencies providing services for immigrants.

Members of the webinar’s sponsoring organizations — REALPAC, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Greater Toronto, Urban Land Institute (ULI) Toronto, NAIOP Toronto, Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO), Toronto CREW, Canadian Urban Institute, Toronto Region Board of Trade, and the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) — were briefed on the needs and invited to contribute.

While other conventional avenues for harbourage in Canada will also be available, including as refugee claimants or through family reunification, it’s expected that the majority of imminent arrivals from Ukraine will be via the three-year visa. This conveys transitory status for visitors who will either later return to the Ukraine or apply for permanent residency. Visa-holders will be immediately eligible to work in Canada, but will receive no government-level income or housing support.

Priority on supportive environments with employment possibilities

Olenka Bulat, co-chair of the UCC’s displaced persons settlement committee, noted that mother-led, single-parent households will comprise a large share of arrivals since men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been directed to stay in Ukraine. Newcomers will be confronting Canada’s affordable housing shortage, while also dealing with potential trauma, language barriers and the general culture shock of unfamiliar surroundings.

“There will be a lot of vulnerable people coming. There are no organized airlifts in place for this at this point so they will all be coming in, in dribs and drabs,” she advised. “All the Ukrainians that are coming in, whether they have any funds or not, are going to require some support in terms of shelter and housing.”

Placements in private homes and/or temporary lodgings such as university residences and hotels are seen as key for short-term, transitory housing. Longer term, UCC and other support agencies are looking to the private rental housing sector for concessions and logistical insight to help match apartment-seekers to markets that could provide community supports, but would be less competitive than Canada’s largest cities.

Toronto was the entry portal for about 80 per cent of the roughly 11,700 Ukrainians who landed in Canada during March. However, UCC chief executive officer Ihor Michalchyshyn reports that the organization’s branches in cities like St. Catharines, Winnipeg and Saskatoon are drawing on local cultural affinities and assembling networks of resources that should exert a strong pull as newcomers prepare to settle in. There is also evidence that Canada’s three-year visa is eliciting comparative research as prospective applicants assess potential destinations and gauge how far they can stretch their funds before they begin earning income.

“We’re seeing that our branches are getting questions from people in Europe asking: What is the rent? What do I get? What kinds of jobs are available?” Michalchyshyn affirmed. “People are making decisions on where to end up based on the job vacancies they see.”

“People are savvy enough to screen this in advance from wherever they are in Europe before coming over here to Canada,” Brooks reiterated. “So maybe there’s a landlord’s association in some of those smaller cities that we can reach out to and say: If you’ve got any vacancies, you should connect with X or Y. That would also be useful for the industry to know.”

Carving out space in a low inventory environment

Turning to other industry efforts, Mark Kenney, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Apartment Properties Real Estate Investment Trust (CAPREIT), was on hand to talk about his company’s initiatives, individually and with peers in the rental housing sector. A group of seven companies — CAPREIT, Boardwalk REIT, Hazelview Properties, Homestead, InterRent REIT, Minto REIT and Starlight Investments — has committed to provide 400 units, Canada-wide, with either free or reduced rents and a variety of other supportive measures, such as waiving of damage deposits, credit approvals and references. CAPREIT is also supplying 10 fully furnished suites, rent-free for six months, for displaced Ukrainian families with a child receiving cancer treatment in Toronto.

“We have incredible low inventory of (available) apartment rental in the city of Toronto so even finding 10 units was not easy,” Kenney recounted.

Given the low vacancy rates almost everywhere, he suggests it will be challenging for prospective tenants who lack Canadian credit ratings and other documentation to compete for available accommodations. Yet, landlords also view the newcomers as a potential labour pool.

“I think with the employment situation in this country, a lot of employers are stepping forward wanting to offer opportunities. CAPREIT and our peers are doing exactly that also,” Kenney said.

Elsewhere, Nathan Rotman, manager of public policy for Airbnb in Canada, outlined the short-term rental platform’s earlier work through its charity arm,, to find accommodations for Afghan refugees and other displaced nationals. He typically places his company’s resources at the front end of the settlement process when new arrivals need short-term housing.

“These are individuals who are stepping up to try to help by giving space in their homes or an accessory dwelling unit of some kind that can be made available for a period of time,” he explained. “We’re currently working with the International Organization for Migration, primarily in Europe, to make our listings on the platform more available to individuals who are seeking housing. We’ll continue to work with the UCC or the federal government as the need continues to grow to support those folks.”

“We’re doing our best to try to figure out how to make use of all the goodwill because there will be more people coming than we can handle in residential apartments,” Michalchyshyn concurred.

Beyond housing, there is also a need for warehouse, storefront and recreational space to support Ukrainian evacuees. Nadia Gereliouk, managing director of the League of Ukrainian Canadians sketched out demands for a network of reception centres where newcomers could gather, pickup welcome packages and other supplies and be directed to services. Given the high percentage of lone-parent households, she also prioritizes “community infrastructure” such as space for summer camps and venues for youth and cultural activities.

One thought on “Ukrainian evacuees arrive to housing scarcity

  1. I am a Property Manager in Edmonton and I do know that there have been Ukrainians coming to Edmonton and I would like to be provided with details on how we can be of service. I do know we have to finalize that rent will be paid and will need some paperwork from the person that would become our tenant but more details would be wonderful.

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