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Find a house: my housing story

two women hugging in front of closet
Photo courtesy of World Relief Spokane

When newcomers come to the USA, most try to find a house or apartment right away.

When you try to find a house, it is kind of searching for fish in the river. You are not sure about when and how to catch it. This is the real story for almost every newcomer. It might be true even for many Americans.

When we entered the United States in 2012, we had no idea about housing. Most of the refugees go to the USA where getting housing is easy. Depending on several factors and circumstances, some states have easier housing procedures and others have a long waiting list. The waiting list might take up to 5 years. For most refugees and even US citizens prefer a faster process.

This is my story of how my family was able to find a house.

First, we arrived in Washington, DC in 2010 and we applied for asylum. Our case lasted around 3 years. Then the patience paid off. We got the asylum status in 2014. It was our happiest day of life. Once we got the asylum status, we decide to leave DC. We were planning to study theology in a ministry with my wife in DC but the financial difficulties forced us to hold that decision for later time. Then after several contacts with family members and American friends, we decided to head to Colorado.

The reason for choosing Colorado was to freely practice our new faith and also applying for housing and find a house.

Once we arrived to Colorado, the community there helped us a lot. What a nice community life we ever see in our life. But there were difficulties. Housing was one them. When we applied to the house, the employees told us, that it might take between 2 to 5 years. That was a huge problem for several reasons. First, we were refugees with zero income and almost no cash. The only thing that we had at that time was some food stamp we still had from DC. No place to stay, no cash, no Medicare or Medicaid is very difficult for a family with two children. We were kind of lost among problems. The community help was great but it was not enough for us.

During that time, we contacted other family members in other states. They told us that in some states the typical waiting time for housing is between 3 to 6 months. So we decided to leave Colorado and we headed to Lincoln, Nebraska. After staying for a while in Lincoln, we applied for housing at the end of September 2015.

Getting a Housing Voucher is like a dream for almost all refugees.

First, we applied online. Then after 2 months of waiting, we have been noticed that we should take a RentWise program. It is like a workshop required by LHA (Lincoln Housing Authority). It takes three days to complete it. After a while, we have got a notice that an appointment is to be set up for determining our eligibility for getting a housing voucher. After submitting all the required documents, you will be noticed whether you are eligible or not for housing.

Generally speaking, getting housing is relatively easy in Nebraska. If you are a low-income family or have no income you can apply and show up during appointments. Most of my family relatives and friends got it after around 4-8 months of waiting.

There might be some challenges for the issue of getting public housing. First, waiting is the most difficult part of it.

You do or know exactly how long it will take. It depends on several factors like, income, location, size of family, submitting required documents, taking workshops and so. Waiting is very boring especially if you just arrived in the USA and do not know anything about rules and regulations. This could be very difficult if you are unemployed and have no income.

Most refugees during the waiting time, stay with a family member or friends. This extends even after getting the housing. The reason is unfamiliarity with a new culture and a new life. Another challenge in getting housing is language. Most refugees do not speak the English language. So when you apply to a house or go to RentWise workshops, they do not understand their rights and obligation. The best way might be interpreted. I suggest starting to learn English right away to help yourself get settled.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.