In 2001, an urgent need for housing led to the establishment of OMRA: a refugee sponsorship group at Ottawa Mennonite Church struggled to find housing for a large family they had sponsored. Vacancy rates were very low in Ottawa and the sponsorship group searched for months to find a rental unit without success.
The congregation of OMC then provided $30,000 as a down payment on a mortgage for a $100,000 townhouse. The sponsorship group rented this first townhouse to the family at a subsidized rate. Over the next ten years, OMRA purchased three more townhomes, through fund-raising and a one-time grant from the federal government. From its inception, OMRA’s mandate has been to help resettled refugees access clean, safe and affordable housing.
OMRA set its rents at market value and then provided its client families with a rent subsidy that gradually decreased over three years. The purpose of the subsidy was to give families time to get established in Canada.
In 2017, OMRA expanded the rent subsidy program in two ways. First, OMRA enlarged the scope of its program, providing rent subsidies to resettled refugee families renting across Ottawa, not just to families living in OMRA-owned townhouses. Second, OMRA increased the number of families that it could support by selling two of its townhouses. The capital from these sales has allowed OMRA to help six times as many families as previously. Since 2001, OMRA has helped over 35 families.
OMRA also partners with other like-minded, non-profit organizations to understand the obstacles to affordable housing in Ottawa, to look for solutions and to identify opportunities for joint advocacy. Our advocacy efforts involve maintaining current information on housing policies and regulations, identifying and meeting with key decision-makers, sharing information with groups such as Refugee 613’s Task Force on Housing, and supporting targeted advocacy actions. OMRA does not engage in partisan political activities.