Gul Rahim fled Afghanistan last August, waited five months at a US military base and finally found a home in St. Paul for his family of 13.
Six months after arriving in Minnesota, he faces expulsion.
“We fought for America for 20 years in Afghanistan,” said Rahim, who served in the Afghan National Security Forces, the military under the country’s former government. “I lost my home, my life and all my hopes and aspirations. Then I came here. The US government shouldn’t leave me alone.”
Rahim, 36, recently spoke through an interpreter at the two-story, seven-bedroom family home. His eldest is 17 years old and his youngest 14 months. He has a baby on the way.
The federal government prepaid Rahim’s rent for the first six months as part of a typical resettlement protocol for Afghans who fled the Taliban takeover of their country in 2021. But by August, he will need to show proof of income and take charge of the payments.
Rahim hasn’t found a job because he doesn’t speak English and doesn’t know how to find or apply for a job in the United States.
The state of Minnesota has welcomed more than 1,200 Afghans since last August. But this sense of welcome has turned into stress and frustration for some refugees and the community members who defend them. Nearly 600 Afghan families face what supporters call a housing crisis in the Twin Cities, exacerbated by rising rents.
“We predicted that this housing crisis was going to happen after six months,” said Amina Baha, chief operating officer of the Afghan Cultural Society of Minnesota. “These people don’t have jobs. Most of them don’t know how to take the bus. They face so many problems.”
The company began as a community organization for new Afghans in Minnesota, but quickly assumed an advocacy role for Afghans struggling to find work, use public transportation, pay rent, and navigate the school system.
Baha works with landlords to house Afghan tenants. While some landlords have agreed to extend leases with advance payment of rent to give refugees time to find jobs, Baha said this is not viable.
“The goal of the resettlement agencies was to house these people, find them a job, or connect them with a counselor or employment network to get them back on their feet within 90 days,” Baha said. “This does not happen.”
After the Taliban retook Afghanistan on August 15, 124,000 people evacuated the region in one of the largest emergency airlifts in history. Some 75,000 evacuees have been sent to eight military bases across the United States. Many of them had worked for the US military, the former Afghan government or human rights organizations as translators, interpreters and other workers.
Minnesota originally pledged to resettle 65 Afghans, but the need has exploded over the past 10 months and many more have arrived.
Almost all refugees who have settled in Minnesota first lived in a hotel designated as transitional housing. From there, five resettlement agencies tasked with ensuring refugees met their most immediate needs within 90 days found housing for every family and individual.
“My children will be on the street”
On a recent Sunday, Rahim sat on a small sofa and shared his family’s struggles while his children played on a double mattress on the living room floor.
Rahim’s family had received a notice from their landlord the day before ordering them to vacate the premises by 6 p.m. on August 3. His daughter delivered the letter as a visibly frustrated Rahim explained their situation. The letter stated that he had chosen not to renew his lease. Rahim said he had no other choice as he had no proof of income. His wife, Najiba, is also unemployed.
Rahim’s eldest son, Nik Mohammad, attends public school with three of his brothers and four of his sisters. Nik said he was worried about his family and felt helpless.
“I wish I could work here,” said 17-year-old Nik. “My sisters and I will work hard in the future to pay the rent.”
Rahim said that even if he and Nik both find jobs, it probably wouldn’t be enough to pay their monthly rent of $2,700.
“I have no money to pay the rent. My children will be homeless. I don’t know what to do or where to go,” Rahim said.
Mohammad Ismail Himmat, 24, lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. His lease ends at the end of July. Himmat’s landlord asked if he wanted to renew his lease, but Himmat refused because he has no money to pay the monthly rent of $1,100. He is unemployed and also struggling to find work.
Himmat arrived in Minnesota in February. He had worked as a mechanic repairing generators in American military camps in Afghanistan. He has been looking for work for the past two months, but cannot read or speak English. Himmat said he was not tied to any placement agency.
“I will do any job,” Himmat said.
Resettlement agencies secured six-month leases for refugees to coincide with federal rent assistance, expecting key breadwinners to find jobs in time.
But it wasn’t that simple.
“There are all these other things that happen when you bring someone from another country to another country,” said Naheed Murad, co-founder of ZACAH, a local charity. “To pay the rent, you have to work. You have to find money somewhere. And to be able to work, you have to commute.”
Resettlement workers like Baha work with landlords and housing support organizations to keep families housed if they cannot pay rent after six months.
ZACAH and resettlement agencies have partnered to channel federal housing assistance to Afghan families in Minnesota. The organization provides two months of housing assistance and has granted an average of $2,500 for two months. Resettlement agencies provide housing assistance for the remaining four months.
ZACAH recently received an influx of requests from panicked Afghan refugees about paying rent beyond the six-month mark.
Rachele King, state refugee coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Social Services, told a community meeting last month that the state had accessed federal resources to invest in sustainable housing for refugees. Afghans. This would include increasing people’s ability to find employment and lowering rents through social housing options or rent subsidies.
“We are pushing state systems as best we can to put resources in place,” King said at the meeting.