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Why American landlords love refugee tenants

First Published      Last Updated Nov 20 2015 04:12 pm

One week a refugee family is fleeing the brutality of civil war and living in a shipping container near the Syrian border, and the next they might be moving into a furnished apartment in Cleveland.

Completing this trek from war-torn villages to safety in the United States can take years and involves a complex apparatus of donors, volunteers, nonprofit organizations, and State Department personnel.

But the resettlement process ends just like every American apartment rental story: with a signature on a lease.

Welcoming refugees to the United States has become a highly charged political issue in the wake of last week's terror attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.

The House voted on Thursday to put the resettlement program on hold even in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis.

Thirty-one governors have objected to taking in refugees, and a majority of American adults in a recent Bloomberg Politics poll doesn't want to accept Syrians over concerns about terrorist infiltrators.

There is renewed impulse to protect the nation by turning away desperate refugee families trying to escape dangerous areas.

But the small group of U.S. property owners who lease homes to refugees have come to learn something that has been noticed in this heated debate: Renters from regions suffering the gravest instability tend to make the most stable tenants.

Renting to refugees, it turns out, has become a surprisingly steady business.

For the last five years, Daryl Anderson has been buying foreclosed homes in Cleveland on the west side of the Cuyahoga River, usually for less than $8,000.

He fixes them up and rents most of the homes to new arrivals from Iraq, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places mired in conflict.

About 80 percent of the tenants in his 40 rental units are refugees.

"I've never had to evict a refugee family," says Anderson, 36, who built his apartment portfolio after serving in the U.S. Marines Corp. "When they come here and get a quality house, they take care of the stuff that they're provided."

Keith Raynor, who has rented apartments in Utica, New York, for the three decades, also prefers to sign leases with refugees. "There was less turnover, which helps with the bottom line," he says. "I'm not doing this for charity."

Anderson's business has been able to grow because of consistent demand from newcomers.

Most of his tenants-who typically pay $750 a month for a three-bedroom unit-are referred by Us Together, a local affiliate of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, one of nine resettlement agencies that contract with the U.S. government to provide services to refugees.

Anderson's steady relationship with Us Together has created a dependable flow of new tenants, which in turn helps him bring two new rental apartments onto the market per month.

When a tenant moves out, Us Together helps Anderson fill the vacancy. When he finishes a new renovation, the nonprofit often has someone ready to move in.

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