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Resettlement program seeking housing for new refugees

Apartments, rentals for refugees that are affordable and safe are in short supply

Published: March 11, 2024   
Malleson Emmerling, refugee resettlement case manager, works with new refugees moving to central Arkansas from Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia. (Dennis Lee)

Since becoming an affiliate office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in January, the Refugee Resettlement Program has resettled four families with a total of nine refugees.  

After vetting by the U.S. State Department, they received approval to relocate to central Arkansas from the countries where they had been waiting: Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia.  

Malleson Emmerling, refugee resettlement case manager, said, “Up to 75 refugee arrivals are anticipated this year with more people expected to originate from Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

The basic services provided to arriving refugees begin before they are met at the airport, according to Emmerling.

“Housing must be secured before their arrival, including providing bedding, some furniture, household items and food.” she said, “Coming up with short-term housing has been a challenge because affordable, decent housing in low-crime neighborhoods is hard to find.”

Most refugee families start out in an apartment with rent that can run from $800 to $1,500 a month, depending on the number of bedrooms. The rent for a house is usually higher.  

“The goal,” Emmerling said, “is to move families from short-term housing to something more permanent as soon as possible, hopefully within the first 90 days, so school-aged children can be enrolled in a neighborhood school while the adults work on employment to become financially independent.”

Apartment complexes, particularly corporate-owned and managed, require a driver’s license, social security number and a deposit — $25 is an average — that can be applied to an application fee.  

“It takes time for a newly arriving person to secure these documents so they can begin looking for a place for their family to live,” Emmerling said. “We talk with landlords on their behalf, often in advance of their arrival, to see if we can facilitate a rental agreement.”

Jennifer Verkamp-Ruthven, director of the Refugee Resettlement Program, said, “Ultimately the refugee families going through our resettlement process are expected to achieve self-sufficiency, which means covering all their expenses, including rent.”

Anyone with rental property or an apartment who would like to help a refugee family through Catholic Charities of Arkansas can contact Emmerling at or (501) 664-0340. She can discuss short-term and longer-term housing needs of the Refugee Resettlement Program, as well as the need for other donated items, such as a kitchen table with chairs, new mattresses with bed frames, cleaning supplies, kitchen items, toiletries, seasonally appropriate clothing and shoes for work, school and everyday use.

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