Preston Brasch was an OK Policy Spring intern. He is studying law at the University of Tulsa School of Law.
Oklahoma faces a significant affordable housing shortage (see e.g. the 2016 Oklahoma Housing Needs Assessment and A Housing Strategy for Tulsa). Wait lists for programs that provide affordable housing can last anywhere from several months to several years. So what do these low-income families do? They often end up in unsafe and poorly maintained housing — an astounding 75 percent of low-income tenants in Oklahoma live in properties with at least one “housing problem” as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This matters because evidence shows poor housing conditions have tremendous impact on health. Children are especially vulnerable: one study found that 39 percent of asthma cases in children under six were linked to their homes. In the most extreme cases, tenants experience sewage backing into the home, leaking roofs, and infestations that can cause infectious disease.
It is important to note that most cases are not so extreme, and most landlords try to provide safe homes to their tenants. However, some landlords abuse the flaws in Oklahoma laws to profit off of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. Due to some unintended consequences of Oklahoma laws, local communities face an uphill battle in trying to improve housing that endangers the health of tenants. Fortunately, a few simple fixes could shore up these problems.
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