Struggles to find affordable housing and work force some Ukrainian refugees to leave Waterloo region

A lack of affordable housing and struggles to find work is forcing some Ukrainian refugees to rethink whether or not they can stay in Waterloo region. Some have already left, but it's also an issue that is affecting other refugees hoping to settle in the region.

'Waterloo region is extremely expensive for anyone,' advocate says

Lack of affordable housing and work force some Ukrainians to rethink whether to stay in Waterloo region

4 months ago
Duration 0:43
Lack of affordable housing and work in Waterloo region has forced some Ukrainian refugees to leave. Alina Baryshnik and her husband came to the region in the spring of 2023, but a few months later she and her husband, as well as their baby, went back to Ukraine.

A lack of affordable housing and difficulties finding work has forced some Ukrainian refugees to rethink whether or not they can stay in Waterloo region and in some cases, families have left the area.

That was the case for 27-year-old Alina Baryshnik, who came to Canada in December 2022. Her husband joined her one month later.

In a video interview from Kyiv, Baryshnik told CBC News she thought she and her husband would be able to settle relatively quickly when they first tried to live in Brampton.

"I though because my husband has good English, that he would find a good job very fast, but at first he couldn't find any," she said. 

She and her husband worked in the medical field in Ukraine and her husband was hoping to get work in a similar field, but was not able to, Baryshnik said. She said she couldn't work at the time because she had just given birth.

Baryshnick said they were also struggling with the high cost of rent and it got to a point where they wouldn't be able to pay it.

It was at that point Baryshnik said they needed to look for other options and moved to Waterloo region in the spring of 2023 after learning the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to the Ukrainian Crisis group helps Ukrainian refugees find temporary housing and work.

Baryshnik said the group helped them get temporary housing for three months in the region and her husband was able to find work, but as the time to stay at the guest house was almost up, her husband lost his job.

"I was frustrated and scared," she said. "We had a small baby, I didn't have a job and it was hard for my husband to find something."

Baryshnik said she left Waterloo region in September 2023 to deal with a family emergency in Ukraine. A month after she arrived, her husband was still struggling to find work in the region and they decided it would be better for him to join her back in Ukraine.

Rent in Waterloo region higher than Calgary

Emmanuel Baffoe and his family went through a similar situation. He, his wife and baby were in Mississauga for three weeks before moving to St. Jacobs in the summer of 2023.

The family is now living in Calgary.

"We said, 'OK that's a good beginning for us,' and after doing some research about Waterloo and Kitchener, I realized it was a place where I could get a good job," he told CBC News.

Baffoe got a job in construction, but struggled to find housing his family could afford. Many places were asking for $2,000 a month, which was the majority of his monthly income at the time.

"Any [rentals] were asking for ridiculous requirements. I had to pay six months upfront, provide a guarantor or I had to have six months of continuous employment and I did not meet all these requirements," he said.

"I went to see 20 different apartments. None of them gave me the opportunity to rent."

In Calgary, Baffoe said he has been able to find work and housing he can afford.

"What is $2,000 in Waterloo is $1,300 here in Calgary," he said.

Lack of Canadian experience 

Stephanie Goertz is the lead organizer and founder of Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to the Ukrainian Crisis. She told CBC News they're seeing more Ukrainians leave the region because many don't have government support for housing and it's up to them to find accommodations and work.

"Waterloo region is extremely expensive for anyone and there is a housing shortage," she said.

"That's why we have rented out facilities and properties and created our own temporary housing solutions for people who would otherwise be homeless."

The group helps run the former Jakobstettel County Inn guest house in St.Jacobs and has connections with other guest houses in Brunner, Hillside, Palmerston and Listowel.

She said the group is currently struggling with finding more host homes for Ukrainians. At the beginning of the war. many people opened up their homes, she said. But now, Goertz says, the offers of space have almost completely stopped.

The group also helps Ukrainians find work, but without Canadian work experience, Goertz said trying to find employment can be a struggle.

"It's extremely difficult for them when they don't have Canadian credentials, work experience in Canada and they probably don't have the level of English that jobs [require]," she said.

Housing, employment a challenge for other refugees

Finding work and housing they can afford is a struggle that goes beyond Ukrainian refugees. It's also impacting the dozens of refugee claimants coming to Waterloo region every month, said Lucia Harrison, CEO of the K-W Multicultural Centre.

There is not enough low-income housing available in the region she said. For refugees who struggle with English, the employment available to them is not enough to cover the cost of the average rent, Harrison added.

The broader community who is in need of housing, as well as international students, is also adding pressure to a shortage of low income hosing in the region. 

"We have a problem for people who have lived here for a long time who are in low-income, we have a problem for new people arriving," Harrison said. "The issue really is, how do we expedite low-cost housing in our community"

With files from Aastha Shetty