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New project uses 'outside-of-the-box’ thinking to provide housing for Ukrainian refugees

Non-profits and real estate developers are working together to offer up vacant homes that are pending redevelopment.
Sasha Faris, President of First Track Development, stands in front of one of the vacant homes that will be given to Ukrainian refugees.

As more Ukrainian refugees come to B.C. to flee the conflict back home, the real estate development community is partnering with non-profits in order to provide housing and resources to this group by utilizing vacant homes that are pending demolition. 

Working alongside the Maple Hope Foundation and SUCCESS, developers are offering up vacant and livable homes that are scheduled for redevelopment in the future. The pilot project, called Operation Welcome Home, is finding creative ways to ensure that refugees who arrive in Vancouver are able to find shelter. 

The project aimed to secure 10 units when it first started, but now has 40 units available for refugees. Combined with other vacant units, Operation Welcome Home has provided homes to 50 families since May. These homes can sit vacant for up to 18 months while development is pending, says SUCCESS. 

Sasha Faris, president of First Track Development, said when he first heard about the project, it was a “no-brainer” to offer up homes that his company was looking to redevelop. 

“It's a great way to reintroduce homes to people in need,” he said. 

“We know that housing for all is a major issue, so I can only imagine how hard it can be for somebody who's coming to Canada as a refugee to secure housing.” 

But housing is only one piece of the puzzle. Not only does the project aim to secure shelter for refugees coming to the province, it also offers resources such as information and orientation sessions, English language learning, employment training and placement, community integration and cultural connection, according to SUCCESS. 

By utilizing support from federal and provincial governments, SUCCESS is looking to provide a framework for shelter options as well as resources to integrate with the community. 

“One thing that's really interesting is that we've already had turnover with one of the families who were able to secure jobs in Toronto. They were with us for about a month or so and then said ‘You know, we really appreciate you helping us get on our feet. We found jobs in Toronto, and away we go.’ So, we already have a success story that comes from this, which is great,” Faris said. 

While the program is currently targeted at Ukrainian refugees, the hope is that this Operation Welcome Home can be utilized in the future for other refugee groups or vulnerable populations that come to B.C., according to SUCCESS.

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