National relief group finds San Diego office violated policies in housing refugees
A refugee family shared its rental documents for an apartment at Sunset Gardens in El Cajon. Identifying information has been redacted. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

National relief group finds San Diego office violated policies in housing refugees

The national headquarters of the International Rescue Committee says it has found problems with the way its San Diego branch placed refugees in homes. The announcement follows a KPBS investigation into allegations that refugees were told to sign falsified rental documents to get their large families into apartments.

Focus On Refugees


This is part of an ongoing series about the struggles refugees face when they make San Diego County their home. The series is a collaboration of reporters, photographers, videographers and editors at inewsource, KPBS and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Why this topic? Since 2009, more than 23,000 refugees have settled in the county, more than any other region in California.

Seven refugee families resettled in San Diego late last year told KPBS that local IRC staffers placed them in apartments that occupancy guidelines say were too small. Some of them said they knew family members’ names had been omitted from the leases, while others didn’t realize that had happened.

According to the rental documents, too many occupants could be considered a material violation of the agreements. Four families were asked to leave their homes because of too many people. The local IRC office initially denied coaching families to lie.

In a statement to KPBS Tuesday, the IRC’s national office in New York said: “We unfortunately have identified housing placement practices in San Diego which were inconsistent with the IRC’s policies and code of conduct. In response, we have taken steps to reinforce housing-related policies and practices with local staff and we have engaged with and are supporting families who may have been impacted.”

KPBS repeatedly requested a phone interview with the IRC’s national office to learn more about its findings and how it was helping families, but the agency has not replied. San Diego IRC Executive Director David Murphy has also not responded to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, which awards federal dollars to resettlement agencies, said in an email that the agency was satisfied with the measures taken by the IRC.

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“The State Department requested that IRC conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations, and they have communicated to us that they have taken appropriate action to ‎ensure that all refugees resettled through IRC in San Diego are served in full compliance with all relevant programs, guidelines, and codes,” the spokeswoman said.

KPBS reached out to the seven families it previously interviewed. One family said it has not been contacted by the IRC and was turned down when it previously contacted the local office for assistance. A second said the IRC also declined to help the family search for a new place. That family is now looking to move to Oregon. A third family said it was contacted by the IRC but refused the agency’s help because it no longer trusts the organization.

A fourth family said it did receive help from the IRC, which located a three-bedroom apartment for them with a six-month lease, but the family decided it was too temporary.

The families arrived last year during a surge of refugees in San Diego. The wave forced IRC staffers to rapidly find homes for refugees on limited means in one of the nation’s tightest and most expensive rental markets.

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About Tarryn Mento:

Tarryn Mento
Tarryn Mento is the Speak City Heights Reporter for KPBS, where she focuses on issues affecting the nearly 80,000 residents living within this San Diego community.