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Austin apartment complex welcomes Afghan refugees in need of housing

Refugee Services of Texas explained the housing shortage is making it difficult to help refugees find a place to stay while they get their footing in a new country.

AUSTIN, Texas — Nearly two months since U.S. troops left Afghanistan, hundreds of refugees who fled the country are still searching for a safe home, including in Austin. 

As Refugee Services of Texas (RST) searches for temporary housing for refugees, the organization said trying to navigate a competitive housing market with a large influx of people who have few resources has not been easy.

"Every world conflict and world event, you'll see a influx of refugees. However, this happened quickly and the numbers that we are seeing is pretty unprecedented," said Russell Smith, CEO of RST. 

One apartment complex executive in Austin hopes she eased some of the stress.

StoryBuilt, an Austin-based developer, welcomed two groups of people from Afghanistan into furnished apartments at Thornton Flats, which is an apartment development that StoryBuilt built and manages.

Kristen Padavic, VP of design for StoryBuilt, led the effort. She has volunteered with refugee support for years, and when she saw the housing shortage impacting the ability for refugees to find housing, she wanted to help.

"The more people we can get housed and, you know, the quicker that they can get a job and the quicker that they can get their kids in school, it's good for everybody," Padavic said.

A few years back, Padavic met a family who moved to Austin from Afghanistan. She is now good friends with them and said they have helped her understand how to better support refugees.

One aspect of that was understanding that refugees fled a tense situation with few belongings or options, so welcoming them to a home that is furnished and supplied with goods would help give them a sense of belonging.

"These are men and women that literally fled their homes as the Taliban took back the towns they lived in, and were coming after the men who had assisted the U.S. forces. Many of them had to leave their children and families behind," Padavic said.

How it works is RST pays a discounted price on each apartment. The remaining balance is considered a charitable donation by the apartment complex.

While two apartments do not scratch the surface for the number of refugees who need a temporary home while they get their footing in a new environment, Smith said this kind of help is invaluable.

"We are just kind of at the tip of seeing this wave come in," he said. 

RST helps about 30% of refugees who come to Texas. By the end of the organization's fiscal year, it is expected to have welcomed about 1,800 refugees across the state.

Smith hopes more apartments will get involved and offer their support, as refugees explore new beginnings. RST also has volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in getting involved.

To learn more, head to RST's website.


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