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A church offers asylum seekers a loan


A housing program run by a nonprofit in New Jersey is making it easier for newly arrived migrants to move into their own apartments and pay their own rent. Reporter Gwynne Hogan looked into the program's potential to serve as an example for cities who are dealing with surges of migrants who have nowhere to live.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Margoth and her two kids, aged 4 and 2, share a bedroom in this white shingled house on a busy street in downtown Metuchen. The family has been living at this house for about a year after crashing with relatives for a few weeks when they first arrived in New Jersey from Ecuador. NPR is withholding Margot's last name because she's working under the table and doesn't want to jeopardize her asylum application.

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: Margoth shows me around the house - the dining room...

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: ...The kitchen...

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: ...The tidy, sunlit bedroom overlooking the back patio Margoth and her two kids share - two beds neatly made, decorated with multicolored stuffed animals.

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: Margoth is renting her apartment through the nearby Reform Church of Highland Park Affordable Housing Corporation. The group signed the lease and paid the upfront costs and provided furniture. Now Margoth pays them the $1,000 rent each month. Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale runs the nonprofit.

SETH KAPER-DALE: That family has absolutely never fallen behind with their rent.

HOGAN: For years, the group has housed refugees with federal funds. But Kaper-Dale thought the program could be expanded to help house the current influx of migrants, even though they don't have any federal funding and can't legally work right away. Legally or not, many newly arrived migrants find work off the books so they can afford rent. But most landlords won't risk renting to them.

KAPER-DALE: No credit history, no pay stubs, no English, no job - that is not the kind of thing that usually makes a landlord feel a whole lot of confidence.

HOGAN: So Kaper-Dale's group steps in, signs the lease, covers the initial security deposit and first month's rent and pays landlords directly each month after that. Migrants pay the group.

KAPER-DALE: We feel real confident that if we help people for the short term, they're going to figure out how to pay their rent. It's proven itself to work out with us, you know, not ending dramatically in the hole or something. And instead, we've seen lots of people's lives transformed.

HOGAN: Kaper-Dale says they make sure to place people entering the program in an apartment they know they'll be able to afford. That might mean placing six single men in a three-bedroom or two families in a two-bedroom.

KAPER-DALE: Yes, it's hard. And yes, it might mean people have to work a whole lot of hours to do it. And yes, they may have to live a little more crowded than they want to. But you know what? They're doing it on their own.

HOGAN: The program could offer a solution to cities across the country trying to figure out what to do with the thousands of migrants living in shelters. Eskinder Negash heads the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. He says while the Highland Park program can help resettle some people, there are capacity and financial restraints on what any individual group can do.

ESKINDER NEGASH: We're talking thousands of people. It's a national issue. I think national issues should be resolved through a national strategy.

HOGAN: Back in Metuchen, Margoth tells me about her first few months here.

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: At first, the family lived here for free.

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: The second month, she paid about half her share of rent after she found work at a restaurant. By the third month, she could afford the full $1,000 working at a different restaurant, earning $12 an hour.

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: It's not much. She's surviving.

MARGOTH: (Speaking Spanish).

HOGAN: But she feels blessed. Here she is, she says, moving ahead little by little, working towards her American dream.

For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in Metuchen, N.J.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM TOMPKINS SONG, "SEE ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gwynne Hogan
[Copyright 2024 WBFO-FM 88.7]

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