Toby Guevin, State Policy Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, understands the struggles providers face in securing housing for new immigrants. Providing interpretive services is only the first step towards securing housing. As Guevin explains, “Communities need linguistically and culturally competent workers in community-based organizations that have legitimacy within an immigrant community.” In addition to being culturally competent, providers must also understand the resources available in each community and different eligibility requirements.
A good way for providers to begin is to keep a list of which groups of people are eligible for housing benefits in their community based on their immigration status. For example, though requirements vary from state to state, the following immigrant groups are generally eligible for public housing and Housing Choice vouchers (Section 8) from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):
- lawful Permanent Residents,
- refugees and asylees,
- victims of trafficking and their derivative beneficiaries,
- certain battered women and children who are not lawful permanent residents,
- persons paroled into the country for at least one year,
- persons granted withholding of deportation,
- temporary residents under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) general amnesty or paroled into US for less than 1 year,
- Cuban-Haitian entrants, and
- citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau (Broder & Blazer, 2009).
Once providers understand the different categories of immigrants eligible for publicly funded housing assistance, the next step is becoming familiar with the barriers immigrants face when attempting to access housing benefits. These may include discrimination from landlords or shelter staff or services that are not culturally competent. New arrivals may experience fear of deportation or distrust of government officials as a result of trauma suffered in their home countries (Access Alliance, 2003). Guevin recommends education and outreach as the first step toward addressing these barriers. Providers can make consumers feel more comfortable accessing benefits by educating them about their legal rights and eligibility.
New immigrants may have misconceptions about eligibility for housing assistance. Guevin offers more information about common concerns expressed by consumers and helps to clear up misconceptions about eligibility:
Concern: My friend or relative was not eligible for housing, so I must not be eligible.
Fact: There are many categories of citizenship status. Even if a friend or relative was found to be ineligible, that doesn’t mean that the individual will be ineligible.
Concern: I was not eligible for food stamps. I must not be eligible for housing.
Fact: Benefit granting agencies have different citizenship eligibility requirements. Even if an individual is not eligible for one kind of benefit they may be eligible for another.
Concern: My child is documented, but I am not. This means that we cannot access public housing.
Fact: If at least one member of the household is eligible for housing benefits based on immigration status, the family may reside in HUD public housing but the subsidy will be pro-rated (Broder & Blazer, 2009).
Concern: I do not have documents. I cannot speak with a housing worker because they could report me to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and I could be deported.
Fact: Housing workers cannot report consumers to ICE for failure to produce a social security number. Contact your state welfare office to check state specific laws on this issue. Please note that providing a fake social security number is a federal offense. Never provide a fake social security number.
Concern: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will reject my citizenship application because I applied for a public benefit.
Fact: While receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or other cash assistance can be used against the applicant when applying for US Citizenship, applying for housing benefits does not negatively impact citizenship applications (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
These are just a few of the common concerns faced by new immigrants. To best serve new immigrants, providers need to respond in a culturally competent way to immigrants’ specific concerns while staying current on benefit eligibility. Following this twofold approach will enable providers to help new immigrants navigate the system of applying for housing benefits while helping to prevent homelessness among vulnerable new immigrants.
Access Alliance (2003). Best practices for working with homeless immigrants and refugees: A community-based action-research project. Toronto: Supporting Communities Partnership Imitative. Retrieved from: http://www.settlement.org/downloads/Best_Practice_Report.pdf
Broder, B. & Blazer, J. (2009). Overview of immigrant eligibility for federal programs. 4th ed. National Immigration Law Center. Retrieved from: http://www.nilc.org/pubs/guideupdates/tbl1_ovrvw-fed-pgms-rev-2009-4-01.pdf
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2009). Public Change Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/New%20Structure/Press%20Releases/2009%20Press%20Releases/Oct%202009/public_charge_fact_%20sheet_11_06_09.pdf
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