In a joint effort to address the housing needs of refugees from Ukraine, IOM has partnered with the Ministry of Regional Development of the Czech Republic and non-profit organizations ADRA and Laxus to launch the pilot project, "Pronájem s garancí" (Rent with a Guarantee). Supported by the Japanese government, this initiative aims to activate unused flats, increase rental housing availability, and provide a secure home for those in need.
The project aims to motivate owners of unoccupied flats in two neighbouring towns in Czechia – Pardubice and Hradec Králové – to rent them out long-term. Research conducted by the Ministry for Regional Development of the Czech Republic in October 2022 revealed that landlords hesitate to rent due to concerns about associated risks, lack of experience or the worries that come with renting an apartment. However, up to 50% of landlords expressed their willingness to rent to refugees from Ukraine or individuals in need of housing if certain guarantees or security were provided.
Under the pilot housing project, owners receive a financial bonus of CZK 30,000 (1.400 USD) for renting an apartment, along with comprehensive lease management by a specialized company. The project also covers necessary administration and initial deposit payment, ensuring a smooth transition for future tenants – refugees from Ukraine. Non-profit organizations offering social services handle communication and other housing-related needs. The pilot project, financially supported by the Japanese government, is a collaborative effort involving the IOM, the Ministry of Regional Development of the Czech Republic, ADRA and Laxus NGOs, and the company Tvůj správce.
One of the owners, who has decided to join this pilot project, is Jolana Hájková. She was hesitant to rent out her apartment due to past negative experiences. However, she gained confidence in the "Pronájem s garancí" project, which offers comprehensive support, including a financial bonus, association with a governmental body, and an international organization.
“I don’t really care who lives in the apartment. And of course, someone has to offer housing to the refugees. They can’t live on the street,” says Ms. Hájková, emphasizing the importance of offering housing to refugees from Ukraine, having previously worked with Ukrainians in her community.
The following text is the story of Nataliia Ivasiuk and her two children, who found accommodation through the project.
Nataliia Ivasiuk and her son Andriy and daughter Sofia arrived in Czechia from Ukraine in late 2022. She was hesitating to leave Ukraine, packed and unpacked 5 times, but when the bombing approached the place she lived, and blackouts started, Nataliia made the difficult decision to leave. Despite the later arrival, Nataliia faced the same challenges that displaced persons face: not knowing the language, finding a job, enrolling her children in school, and finding housing. "We dreamed of going to France to see the Eiffel Tower or to Bulgaria for a seaside vacation. But we never thought of living in Czechia. We have a nice house in Ukraine - as soon as the war is over, we will go home."
Nataliia is from the village of Khotyn, Chernivtsi region. Fortunately, active hostilities spared their home. But the war still had an impact.
"From the first days of the full-scale invasion, there was tremendous tension. So, I started volunteering: we canned stew for the military, baked buns, cooked long-term storage products and sent it to the front. I remember how on Easter in 2022, the priest came to bless 300 Easter cakes. We were sure that in a couple of weeks the war would be over,” recalls Nataliia about last spring.
But the situation was only getting worse: curfews were imposed, checkpoints were set up, blackouts began, prices for generators and everything else soared.
Nataliia’s relatives who live in Hradec Králové, Czechia, have repeatedly asked her to join them there. “Over the past year, I packed and unpacked my suitcases 5 times,” Nataliia says. “Sometimes it seemed that we would take the minimum: underwear and a couple of things. Then I would re-pack my backpack because I still had a lot of things I needed. But the first thing I packed were disks with videos from the wedding and children’s christenings. Printed photos take up a lot of space. And the disks are not very heavy, but they are the memory of my life. And if anything, I will have something to show my children.”
"I want to work as a teacher"
Before leaving Ukraine, Nataliia also had to solve the issue of work. Nataliia worked as a primary school teacher. In the Chernivtsi region, it is not allowed to teach online, so she had to write a letter of resignation.
"I didn't know exactly how long I would be gone for. I wrote 3 applications at once: for a week, a month, and 90 days. But the time had already passed and since we can’t work online, I was fired. As a mother of a second-grader, I can say that it is impractical with small children. Now I am looking for a job in Czechia," Nataliia admits.
In Czechia, she has already recognized her teaching diploma. She is learning the language because she wants to start working as a teacher's assistant at a school in September. In the meantime, she takes on part-time jobs, mostly in the field of cleaning, to earn money to live on.
"The first weeks at school, we all cried together"
Nataliia's children, second-grader Andrii and eighth-grader Sofia started school in Czechia right after their arrival. There were only places in a school outside the city, so the children travel about 10 bus stops to and from school every day.
"Is it difficult for them? Very much so! It is so difficult to study without knowing Czech. The first weeks we all cried together. Because if I can do homework with the younger one at home, the older one has to learn history, biology, and geography in Czech. And it is very difficult for her," Nataliia admits.
In addition to studying at the Czech school, Nataliia's children continued their distance learning at a Ukrainian school. Since the family is going to return home after the war, it is extremely important for them not to lose contact with their home school. This is a double burden on the children.
"During the first weeks, the children told me that they didn't understand anything at all in class. In addition, because they do not know the language, it is difficult for them to make friends with their peers. Even if they are nice to Ukrainians, they can't make friends because of the language barrier. And then there are those who blame Ukrainians for high inflation and rising prices. But we did not start the war, we suffered!"
Volunteering as a way to reduce the psychological burden
While looking for Czech language courses, especially for children, Nataliia came across an integration centre in Hradec Králové. Thus, courses, friends, volunteering, and new opportunities came into her life.
"My daughter took Czech language courses. She made friends there. And I was able to join volunteer initiatives - in the winter we made trench candles. And now we are weaving camouflage nets out of old sheets to send to the front," Nataliia said.
According to Nataliia, this helps her to switch focus a little bit. It was at the integration centre that the Ukrainian woman learned about the IOM project, which helps with finding and renting housing. And this issue was one of the most pressing for her.
"When we first arrived in Czechia, we lived with relatives for a month. And then we started renting one room in a 3-room apartment for 15 thousand CZK [700 USD]. There were 12 of us living together - 3 different families. Into long ago I was told that there was an organization that could help us find an apartment and even pay the refundable deposit for rental property. It sounded like a fairy tale to me at the time. I was very afraid that something could go wrong. But I'm grateful to IOM and the Laxus organization - they took care of all the administrative and organizational issues. And it was an invaluable help," Nataliia said.
Nataliia was offered to see an apartment that had not been rented for a long time. The apartment was unfurnished but Nataliia was ready to sign the contract right away.
The family quickly moved into the new apartment. For the first few weeks, they slept on the floor on mattresses. Later on, Laxus specialists helped with the furniture, bringing beds, kitchen and computer tables, chairs, and a microwave.
"I was surrounded by such care! My children and I were very ill for one week. And at that time, I had to sign the documents. A specialist from Lexus brought the documents home to me, and she also brought me medicine. In such situations, I feel very warm at heart! I realize that I am safe, my children are with me, and they have a full childhood. They don't have to hide in basements or worry about their own lives. And this is the most important thing," summarized Nataliia Ivasiuk.
The project was generously supported by the Government of Japan.