What is Operation Allies Welcome?
Operation Allies Welcome is an effort by the Biden Administration to secure housing and employment for 70,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees who are resettling in the United States. The majority of these individuals worked alongside United States diplomatic, military or civic agencies as translators or other support personnel in Afghanistan during the conflict of past two decades. Some are US citizens born or living in Afghanistan or others fleeing persecution who are seeking Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) status as has been done in other military evacuations. Whatever the case, they were critical partners for the United States during our time of need and now they need our help. The White House and Department of Homeland Security engaged the National Apartment Association (NAA) to specifically help meet the housing demands of these refugees.
Operation Allies Welcome is being executed through a community of more than 250 organizations including federal agencies, national non-profit organizations, state and local resettlement affiliates, private businesses, and others under Welcome.us. This organization was formed specifically for this effort, the honorary co-chairs for which are former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton and Former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. NAA is working directly with Welcome.us to develop tools and resources to assist private rental housing in understanding the requirements and process for participating.
Where are these refugees going to settle?
Because of the variance in employment opportunities and potentially tight rental markets, housing providers with available units in communities outside the above list are very welcome to participate.
What are the core requests of rental housing providers in supply rental homes for refugees?
There are three primary requests of housing providers who would like to participate in refugee resettlement. First, units that are available immediately are needed with a maximum rent of $2,000 per month. Second, housing providers are being asked to waive normal requirements like credit checks, background checks, and security deposits. Finally, up to a one-year lease is desired.
How can rental housing providers be confident that these refugees have been appropriately screened; especially since they are being asked to waive my own screening procedures?
We know that background screening is a key area of concern for all rental housing providers. The federal government is also acutely aware of that concern. It is important to know that prior to their arrival in the United States, refugees are screened and vetted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Counterterrorism Center, and additional intelligence community partners using biometric and biographic filters.
Any refugee who does not pass these checks while still overseas are not permitted to board a flight to the United States. Additionally, all Afghans are required to undergo the same process as other persons arriving from outside the country: namely, additional inspection upon arrival and a secondary inspection as the circumstances require. If, upon landing in the United States, further security vetting at the port of entry raises a concern about a person, there is the ability to deny them entry into the United States. Please see the OAW Fact Sheet for more information on the screening process for Afghan refugees.
Is there a conflict with the Fair Housing Act?
Many owner/operators have expressed concerns about participating in the refugee resettlement effort because of fair housing concerns. Specifically, they ask, by waiving traditional resident screening for these refugees, is that a violation of fair housing on the basis of national origin? While we must wait for formal guidance from HUD, our understanding is that national origin preference is not an issue in the case of Afghan refugees because they are designated as “humanitarian parolees,” and thus are not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal, and it is discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, only if the landlord excluded a humanitarian parolee because of one of the 7 protected classes:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Further, and directly to the concerns shared with us, if a housing provider has a concern about waiving a credit history check, there would only be a Fair Housing issue if they did not uniformly and consistently waive credit history checks for other humanitarian parolee applicants who also don’t have a credit history. Put another way, they are clear to waive credit checks as long as they also showed doing so for other humanitarian parolees. We anticipate that this is the first experience with refugees for many providers, so what they do here would be their precedent setting. Therefore, as long as they made the same exceptions for other parolees/refugees in the future, they are in compliance. Again, the final word on this will come from HUD in formal guidance hopefully to be released soon.
How is the rent being paid by these refugees?
The federal government has allocated $100 million specifically for housing expenses for resettling refugees. This is in addition to existing housing resources from the Department of State that is also available to this community. Layered to these resources are eligible dollars from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and national, state and local non-profit funds. The ultimate goal is to supply sufficient financial support to these refugees to stabilize them in their housing for a number of months. See this fact sheet from the Department of Homeland Security for more information.
Below are informational resources for housing providers. NAA will update these resources as more become available.
For Interested Housing Providers
Several channels for participation in Operation Allies Welcome exist now or are being developed. First, you can contact your state resettlement agency. Second, an “exchange” for available housing is under construction at Welcome.us where housing providers can upload available units so that resettlement agencies and nonprofits can see them and connect to start the process. Look for that in the near future. Finally, you can contact the Department of Homeland Security directly and they will connect you with the right organization to begin the process. The contact information for those inquiries is below.
Office of the Deputy Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security