Municipal Finance Blog

Medellín’s Holistic Housing for Refugees

Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia, is the new home of nearly 190,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. During the height of the pandemic, Mayor Daniel Quintero took walks through the city to determine the needs of the city’s most vulnerable residents, and identified housing as one of the most critical issues.

The city’s government made efforts to provide families with emergency shelter, but despite these efforts, the demand for housing still outweighed what the city could supply, especially for refugees and asylum seekers who were ineligible for certain central government social safety nets.  

In response, Medellín became one of the first grantees of the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF) and expanded the city’s existing housing assistance program to benefit more than 300 migrant and displaced families. 

“In Medellín, we seek to positively impact the lives of migrant and displaced people and families,” said Mayor Quintero. “Our project offered a way for the city to effectively reach refugees and other vulnerable groups, many of whom prefer to stay anonymous, with assistance and to inform them of their rights, including the right to adequate housing, health, and nutrition.” 

Mayor Quintero found firsthand that most residents who were living on the street had only been in the city for a week or two, arriving on foot from Venezuela or border areas, hungry and tired. With nowhere else to turn, the majority of these families (77%) reached out to the city through its service hotline, Línea 123 Social (Social Hotline 123), to apply for emergency housing.

Over 1,200 migrants and refugees were provided with three months paid accommodation, often in inquilinatos — private rooms provided to families with shared kitchen and laundry facilities on the same floor of a hotel.

This three month period, paired with the city’s holistic suite of services for displaced residents — including legal, psychosocial, and employment services — proved essential in helping newcomers obtain the paperwork, medical treatment, and financial stability required to become self-sufficient in their new home city. Ultimately, more than 75 percent of families who participated in Medellín’s housing assistance program went on to find more permanent housing, including through longer-term rental arrangements at the inquilinatos arranged by the city.

Furthermore, half of those housed by the GCF-supported project were under the age of 14. This prompted the city to strategize additional projects in its Medellín Futuro plan to invest in migrant inclusion and ensure the prosperity of its urban communities for generations to come, with a special focus on safeguarding the well-being of Medellín’s children and adolescents through new educational opportunities, enhanced access to health care, employment and entrepreneurship programs, and more.

In addition to these efforts, Medellín participated in our 4Mi Cities data collection project with the Mixed Migration Centre, which surveyed the city’s migrant and refugee residents to learn more about their experiences in the city. After our research showed many community members lacked awareness of and access to city government services. Medellín pledged to involve refugee and migrant associations in local decision-making processes, including welcoming their participation in Community Action Boards.

Partnerships between cities like Medellín and the Mayors Migration Council not only help city governments collect valuable data themselves, but leverage that data to advocate for and implement inclusive policies and programs that protect the rights and dignity of people on the move.

Meet some of the community members who have benefitted from one of the earliest GCF projects:

“When we reached the southern terminal in Medellín, a police officer recommended that we call the Línea 123 Social hotline, through which we connected with an official of the Mayor’s Office. Since then, we have been staying at the International Medellín Hotel. When we arrived, the staff gave us a bag of food, and with the guidance of a social worker, we began managing our own income. We are very grateful for this help — for beds to rest, a shower to wash ourselves, and protection from the sun and the rains.” – The Pabon De Caires Family (from Venezuela)

“We are Venezuelan migrants who traveled through forests to Medellín in search of better opportunities and to improve our quality of life. I thank this city, which opened its doors to my family and gave us support and love.” – The Martinez Silva Family (From Venezuela)


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