Rent discrimination curbs integration

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A new report has found many immigrants struggle to get permanent or long-term housing in Norway. Moving constantly forced many of those surveyed into substandard housing, made job seeking harder and hindered their children from integrating at school and in the community.

Norwegian research foundation Fafo analyzed a study of immigrants’ living conditions, and interviewed 10 low income mothers from Somalia, Iraq and Norway. It found home ownership was well out of reach for most immigrants, but many also experienced discrimination in the rental market reported newspaper Dagsavisen.

“The ones who move the most are those who don’t own homes,” said researcher Anne Skevik Grødem. “In Norway it’s Somalians who have the lowest chance of owning their own home. Only 14 percent of them do. In comparison about 90 percent of Norwegian families own their own home.”

One of the families interviewed moved eight times during a five year period. Another had a rental contract for only one month at a time, and many reported being thrown out at short notice so the building owner could use the place again.

“Many Somalians in Oslo live in hostels because they can’t get leases or buy apartments,” 36-year-old mother of five, Naima Abdirahman told Dagsavisen. She moved nine times in seven years, always with short term contracts before securing a five year lease from the Oslo city council. “If you have several children, like many Somalians have, the problem becomes even bigger.”

Immigrants found apartment owners wouldn’t rent to them because they were unemployed, had children, or said straight out that they won’t lease to Somalians, said Grødem. “Several reported that ethnic Norwegian landlords wouldn’t rent out to them, and many leased off others with immigrant backgrounds,” she explained. “But there can also be discrimination between immigrant groups. A normal reason for being evicted is that the house owners needs the apartment themselves, for example because he has a family member coming to Norway.”

Health and integration
Housing desperation forces many immigrants into substandard housing, often cramped, drafty, cold, or even riddled with mould and rats. Some of those interviewed reported paying rents up to NOK 10,000 a month to live in such conditions. Grødem said researchers don’t know how many immigrants are affected. “There is reason to believe that there are several thousand people,” she estimated. “We know that the proportion of homeowners is low in several immigrant groups.”

Cold, damp housing lead to increased health problems like asthma and headaches in children. Moving so often also made it difficult for children to settle into a school and build strong friendships, affecting integration.

A lack of housing stability affects adults’ integration too. “Instead of using time and energy to find a job, they use a lot of energy worrying about their living situation, searching after housing and running to home viewings the whole time,” explained Grødem.

Grødem said there’s a need for more social housing for those struggling to enter the private market, coordinated by charity and church groups and municipalities. Cecile Campos from the City Mission Church (Kirkens Bymisjon) said the housing problem is too big for groups like hers to solve. “It must be a public responsibility,” she explained. “The problem is way too large for it to be appropriate for us to go into.” She said they instead offer rental courses together with housing companies, for people who need to learn more about the Norwegian housing market. Woodgate