Insects crawl from unfinished cracks between walls and linoleum floors and into the ears and mouths of Afghan children as they sleep.
Their family of seven living at The Restoration on Candlewood have woken up in a sheet of sticky sweat every day this summer. A working central heating and air system was not part of the announced renovations to the apartment complex in northwest Oklahoma City. Their tubs and sinks are crusty with slowly draining sewage.
A 4-year-old Afghan girl was nearly kidnapped from this compound twice in a week, according to local refugee resettlement officials. His parents stopped calling the police after the men were arrested and released, fearing reprisals.
An Oklahoma Watch review of more than 100 complaints, apartment tours and interviews with residents paints a picture of the unsafe and substandard living conditions for many Afghan refugees who resettled in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. A year after the fall of Kabul, some who worked for American interests during the 20-year war in their country and who expected to find safety in Oklahoma are victims of break-ins, pest infestations, no air conditioning and an uncertain future.
When Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City Catholic Charities Executive chose to resettle more than 1,800 Afghan refugees in Oklahoma last fall, housing was scarce. According to census data, less than 3 in every 100 apartments in Oklahoma City were available. In Tulsa, it was less than 4 out of 100.
“That didn’t mean there wasn’t housing, it just meant it would take a long time to find it,” said Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, the faith-based association not-for-profit that contracts with the federal government. government for the resettlement of refugees.
With median rents up about 15% in these cities since last summer, a $1,500-a-month apartment now costs $1,725. For most Afghan refugee families, federal relief funds will cover rent and utilities through March 2023, said Shannon Carr, director of communications for Community Cares Partners, a nonprofit contracted to distribute these funds.
“In this tight housing market with very limited options, we’ve had to make the choice between not only finding them a home that’s right for their family, but that they can sustainably afford after those federal dollars run out.” , said Raglow.
He said the nonprofit initially offered to resettle about 350 refugees and increased the number at the request of the governor. He said that when he and the governor agreed to bring 1,800 refugees to Oklahoma, they “knew there wouldn’t be enough places to put them.”
During a tour of two apartment complexes Friday in Oklahoma City, Stitt said Oklahoma was a good place for Afghan refugees and dismissed the idea that too many people arrived too soon.
“First of all, it’s not too much,” Stitt said. “They want to work. There is a need for manpower. And we certainly have the service groups to step in to help.
Most Afghans have resettled in what Raglow called efficient and decent apartments. Those options quickly ran out, he said. Catholic Charities is tracking 61 cases of non-functioning air conditioning systems in Oklahoma City, 17 pest infestations and at least three burglaries in apartments housing Afghans.
While some air conditioners have been repaired or replaced with window units, a 28-year-old Afghan refugee who has lived in his apartment for eight months with his wife and five children is still waiting for management to fix his central air conditioning system. Temperatures hovered around 80 degrees inside his apartment when Oklahoma Watch visited earlier this month, having hit over 101. The family can only use every other shower without backing up water worn out.
Saber, a former interpreter at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul who transferred his skills to a job with Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma, said conditions faced by some families in Tulsa are similar. As a former public face in Kabul, he asked Oklahoma Watch to use only his first name for the protection of his family back home.
He said some apartments had unpainted walls. Others broke doors and windows.
As he worked with Afghan families in Tulsa and Stillwater and translated some of the terms of their apartment leases, he said he saw rents ranging from $750 for families living in international graduate student housing at the Oklahoma State University at $3,500 for those living in Tulsa. subway.
“I can confirm that. This is absolutely real,” said Julie Davis, CEO of the YWCA in Tulsa, which is taking over the resettlement operation from Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma.
Over the next six to 12 months, 45 Afghan families living in apartments in Tulsa will need to be relocated, she said, adding that families larger than six will especially struggle to find suitable and affordable housing.
In Stillwater, 41 evacuees are living in international graduate student housing at OSU while another 30 are living in apartments across town.
Bryan Padgett is the pastor of Redeemers Church in Stillwater and has worked as a volunteer resettlement coordinator in his area. Although living conditions for Afghans in Stillwater are not dilapidated, he said there were fewer job opportunities and the jobs generally paid less.
Padgett said the university has been a big help, but he’s worried about how evacuated families will adjust when federal aid ends and OSU leases aren’t renewed for make way for returning international students who have stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are already trying to find alternate housing arrangements for when they have to pay rent,” Padgett said. “So while everything is good right now, I know for myself and for others, we’re probably more nervous for them than they are for themselves. They don’t know what’s coming. and we know it.
Raglow said Catholic Charities has stuck to the terms of its resettlement agreement and has no plan to deal with the consequences for Afghan refugees who cannot pay at the end of their 18 months of housing assistance.
“At the macro level, we’ve done a magnificent job,” he said. “On an individual level, we’ve had challenges in the sense that this state doesn’t have enough quality affordable housing.”
Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public policy issues facing the state.