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Landlord shares inspiration, benefits of renting to refugees

“I believe God gives everyone creative ways to help their neighbor.”

Cara Salazar, content writer

black woman standing beside white man talking

Welcoming refugees and watching HGTV are two of Shoni’s passions. But it wasn’t until she returned to Michigan from a mission trip serving refugees in Kenya that she began to wonder if she could bring these two interests together in a purposeful way.

“On my trip we met a woman called Shosho, or ‘grandmother’ in Swahili,” says Shoni. “We were building her a brick house and found out Shosho had never lived in a house with electricity. When I returned home, I thought, How can I provide refugees a home in Kalamazoo? And how can I furnish a home in a way that feels special for them? Shosho was really the inspiration for me to step out, purchase properties, and become a landlord to refugees.”

Shoni, who now manages three properties and is eager to do more, exclusively serves refugees resettling in Kalamazoo. Initially, she was unsure how she’d be able to acquire the furnishings needed for her tenants. She says the outpouring of generosity from friends and strangers alike has been one of the biggest surprises.

“The support has been unreal,” Shoni says. “People I don’t even know how they found me, texting me asking, How can I help you? What do you need? Then there’s the relational aspect of support. My electrician speaks Spanish and connects with my tenants by sharing stories, which builds relationship. When I told my Realtor my vision, he was on board and keeps me accountable to our goals. It’s just been unbelievable.”

Shoni sees many advantages of renting to refugees, citing their drive to build a prosperous future. Other benefits for landlords can include:

  • Access to long-term potential tenants, contributing to shorter vacancies
  • Refugees receive initial financial support through resettlement offices and state programs, which sets them on a strong financial future
  • Refugees obtain close case-management support and access to interpretation services, easing the pressure off the landlord to guide refugees through the renting process
  • An opportunity to provide refugees a safe environment, allowing them to become established and thrive in the U.S.

Shoni says she believes being a landlord to refugees takes a certain kind of person.

“You need to be passionate about refugees,” she says. “If you’re only in it for the money, this isn’t for you. It’s a continuous learning process. I seek out opportunities to partner with the community, the city of Kalamazoo, and other business owners. I research the languages my tenants speak. I look for properties near bus lines so they can get around easier. I do this because I believe God gives everyone creative ways to help their neighbor, and this is how he’s asked me to do my part.”

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