No place to go: Oklahomans with felony convictions face barriers to affordable housing

This report was funded by a grant from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.

[See the full issue brief]

homeless manOklahoma’s tough-on-crime criminal justice ethos results in one of the highest per-capita incarceration rates in the US. Thousands of these incarcerated Oklahomans are released to the streets every year, but when they are released, many ex-offenders have nowhere to live.

A new issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute discusses barriers to affordable housing for Oklahomans with felony convictions; details what those barriers mean for ex-felons and their families; and shares models used by other states and localities to effectively use housing to decrease homelessness and recidivism and strengthen families.

Affordable housing in Oklahoma

The major public assistance for Americans to obtain housing comes through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The two primary HUD programs are public housing, where approved applicants live in residences owned by the local public housing authority (PHA), and Section 8 Housing Choice, which grants vouchers to approved applicants for paying rent to participating private housing developments. HUD requires local housing authorities to ban lifetime registered sex offenders and those convicted of certain drug-related crimes, and housing authorities have latitude to further restrict eligibility.

The Tulsa Housing Authority (THA), Oklahoma City Housing Authority (OCHA), and the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) cover Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and rural parts of the state, respectively. Administrative documents provided by these agencies revealed that they exercize even more restrictive eligibility criteria than what is listed on their websites. THA and OHFA, for instance, may consider a pattern of arrests – regardless of conviction – to be sufficient criminal activity to ban an applicant household. The poorly disclosed and inconsistent pattern of restrictions by these agencies may cause Oklahomans with a criminal records to not apply for housing assistance, even when they would have been eligible.

Impacts of restrictions

Of the three PHAs surveyed, two could provide data on how many applicant households had been denied housing assistance due to criminal records. The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency reported that 6 percent of all applicants were denied due to violent crimes or drug crimes, and the Tulsa Housing Authority reported that 13 percent of applicants were denied because they “did not meet” the criminal background screening.

conditions-contributing-to-homelessnessWith limited data, it is difficult to estimate the effects of PHA housing restrictions on ex-felons. However, point-in-time homelessness surveys in Tulsa and Oklahoma City indicated that people with criminal records are overrepresented in the homeless population. In Tulsa, 12.3 percent of those surveyed said that jail or prison time had contributed toward their becoming homelessness, and in Oklahoma City, 18 percent reported having spent time in jail in the prior 6 months, and 9 percent had spent time in prison in the same time period.

Similarly, many organizations that provide support to those recently released from jail or prison said that locating housing was a significant barrier for their clients. One reported that clients often resort to living with people they were close to prior to their arrest and conviction – people who were frequently contributors towards the activities that led to incarceration in the first place. Another said that living with friends and family frequently came with conditions, such as providing child care, which impeded clients’ ability to locate and hold a job.

Barriers to housing are just one part of a web of challenges facing Oklahomans with felony convictions. The requirement that households may receive housing assistance only if they exclude household members with criminal records adds to incarceration’s disruption of the family. At the same time, those with felony convictions are barred from many jobs, some public safety net programs, and in some cases from obtaining a driver’s license. While policies designed to keep other families receiving housing assistance safe are important, they often go beyond what is necessary to protect safety and instead become more retribution after individuals have served their sentences.

Moving forward

Several major US cities, including some in politically conservative states, have implemented reforms to provide stable housing to residents with a felony conviction. Salt Lake City and County have partnered to implement “housing first” policies designed to move both the chronically homeless and recently-released prisoners into supportive housing. The Housing Authority of New Orleans recently revised their criminal background policy to allow housing assistance to all but the most heinous offenders.

Similar reforms are possible in Oklahoma. Legislation signed into law in the state’s 2015 legislative session reduces some of the restrictions have previously prevented Oklahomans with criminal records access to jobs to help them rebuild their lives after release: HB 2168 eases restrictions on obtaining job licenses, and HB 2179 allows nonviolent offenders on probation to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

Reforming housing policies and transitioning to a model that prioritizes housing for ex-offenders would fight recidivism, support the economy, and encourage stable families. These reforms should be an integral part of further criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.

Learn More // Do More


Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

30 thoughts on “No place to go: Oklahomans with felony convictions face barriers to affordable housing

  1. It is a shame how Oklahoma punishes people even after the sentence is served. No jobs,No homes, No mercy! Completely ridiculous how so many potential tax payers and contributors to society are ostracized because of bad choices made in their past.

  2. I find it quite sad that we, in Oklahoma continue to use prior convictions against those who are willing to work and change their lives. So many who are denied jobs and housing often reoffend because there is no other way to survive. They can only count on family so much. Why should they have to rely upon family and friends to take care of them for a long period of time when there are jobs and housing out there for them? As an educator, I see the harm being done by not allowing re-entry into the working class or housing. Many ex-offenders have children and the children suffer economically,as well as socially. I truly believe this practice is unfair and needs to be undone. I really hope something changes soon.

  3. Felons are haunted by past convictions for the rest of their lives. Even after proving over and over again they have changed and trying to better their lives they do not get a break. My daughter cannot get certain jobs or a place to live because of her type of felon. I can barely support myself much less her too. She has a job now, but it is only temporary and can’t afford a place on her pay. People who are trying to do better in life just need a little help. Is that so much to ask?

  4. I really appreciate what your organization is doing to help support felons.I was recently released from odoc in may,and after five years,I’ve been released to nothing, no family or job.trying to stay away from trouble is hard and it’s twice as hard when you are broke, but I am commited to ending the vicious circle know as the dept of corrections.I thank you for your time and consideration.

  5. I’m an ex-offender with a criminal record.I never served prison time but instead I received probation.This was my first serious offence.But after five long years of rehabilitating myself,I can say that I have truly changed.I completed everything that was asked of me and maintained full time employment throughout my entire probation period.But,I recently lost my job due to un-forseen issues and I have been searching for employment for the last two months.I’m about to loose everything I have because with a record,well, I’m simply an outcast.I don’t know what else to do but cry and share my frustrations with everyone.I’m a person too!

  6. Oklahoma is so broke it can not even pay attention. Unfortunately locked up adults is a lucrative business and the vicious cycle continues. It would serve this state well if progressive thinking replaced the antiquated thinking and policies that keep this state at the top of negative outcomes and the bottom of positive ones.

  7. I’m having a hell of a time finding a job with no criminal record! I can only imagine what a pain in the ass when you do find work another bunch called the Oklahoma child support will gobble up

  8. No wonder they end up back in because when they get out, it’s no where to go, food stamps like this does any good, no medicine no home and no help. sad.

  9. I was convicted for prescription fraud.A woman asked me to go into a pharmacy and pick up her prescription.The prescription was fraudulent and I did not know it.I gave the name and birthdate to pick up the prescription and I was arrested.I am not a criminal or a bad person.I was conned into doing this.Can you please help me find an apt.

  10. I think we should all get together and start a group and protest against these outraageuos rediculous sanctions that are on felons. I plan too!!!

  11. I like your idea! If enough people rise up and let their voices be heard then maybe the politicians will listen. Businesses should be encouraged to give felons a chance at jobs that pay a livable wage, adequate housing should be offered for low income felons, and expansion of drug courts and community sentencing should also be implemented. Oklahoma needs to crawl out of bias thinking and show initiative in solving this issue.

    1. Absolutely what needs to be done I’m a single mom who made a few wrong choices growing up now at 41 I struggle because of it I was just denied housing I went to the whole process of application thinking finally a break several months pass and then I received a letter stating I was ineligible due to a drug charge that happened many years prior 10 years is how long ur record has to be clean they said I I could reapply in dec. 2023 that nice so what am I to do til then I have children I’m homeless staying with friends or family which never works out . I need help .

  12. I am a homeless felon. I find a apartment that rents to felons but once they find I’m a felon the rent sky rockets. I have to work a job that hires none Americans and want to pay you such low wages that you have to decide whether to ride the bus or eat when you need to get clear across town. To be honest it is easier to be in prison then on the streets. I have a probation officer wanting me to come up with five hundred dollars when I have enough problems coming up with enough money to eat. If it wasn’t for bake shops putting old bake goods out back by the trash I would starve to death. I told my probation officer to revoke my probation but she doesn’t. There is no hope in this none forgiving state, no one can or will help.

  13. I agree I have to stay wherever I can cause I can’t get an apartment with a felony. And it’s been 10 years. There is a empty motel here for years I wish I could get them to remodel into apartments for people with prior felonys. I could understand haVing security and strict rules to keep down criminal activity but a lot of us just made few bad choices due to things that happen in life and we are not bad people to stays in trouble. Like me I made a bad choice and believed a family member to do something they said they had permission for and they didn’t and here I got a felony for it. I think we all need to stand together and fight these in fair laws. They’re the reason so many end back up in trouble. They leave no choice cause they refuse to help

  14. I myself have hit rock bottom so many times….too many to count….I was arrested almost 7 years ago….this summer in June will be 7 years….for possession of a controlled substance but it was in a different state….Indiana to be exact but anyway I too struggle with finding a place for me and my daughter to live I have a shitty job but I lied on my app and didn’t mention my felony….I know that was something I shouldn’t have done probably but I was desperate just to take care of my daughter and even this shitty job doesnt do it….I have a sister that resides in Nottingham square apartments here in Moore Oklahoma and their for low income families I never applied for them because I’m sure they’ll deny me….but Everytime I look this subject up online for low income housing aka section 8 for felons in Oklahoma it says within the last 7 years is all they look for but some how I don’t trust it….does anyone know how true that is? Also it says they only deny felons that are sex offenders and drug traffickers of methamphetamine or whatever….does anyone know anything about these apartments?

  15. Amanda,
    I do know that section eight is only concerned with violent or sex related felonies. When I got accepted to public housing I had three felonies (drug use related), the last one being seven years old. I would definatly go and apply for housing, I think you will be just fine aside from the extensive waiting lists. Best of luck to you and may God bless you with a prosperous future.

  16. I am an ex-felon and after read the Oklahoma laws on ex-felon we are not even citizen of this state even if we were born here with out getting a parden from this state there isn’t that much we can do it has been hard for me to find work to look for my own place I have to rely on family just to get the things that I get

  17. I’m im disabled and on disability. I’m a violent offender.but I have not been in any trouble since being released from prison on June 3rd 2014. I also attend selabrat recoery.i also see my psychiatrist twice a month and I take an I would like to finish in person.thank you for your time and consideration. Candida

  18. i’m a convicted felon who had twice the bad luck by getting addicted to methamphetamine and was arrested for manufacturing. The only place i have been able to live at is because the owners know my wife currently i work at the apartment in exchange for free rent. I work all hours of the day doing the nasty jobs that they can’t even pay someone to do. Well now my wife wants a better life than i can give her.I will soon be homeless no wife no job no one willing to give me a chance so to any lawmakers who might read this i am going to commit suicide because i can’t handle prison again. Being homeless is just barely surviving no enjoyment out of life just what’s the use of living there’s no enjoyment only loneliness and regret. So i hope the laws of oklahoma have made it a safer place as for me life is over. Good bye everybody sorry i caused trouble

    1. Its so wrong they do there time if they try to reabilatate them or teach them a craft or trade .and help them with job and housing they might not commit the save crime again and again .they have family’s to feed ,so they go back to what they know drug dealing or a worst crime .everyone makes mistakes.they treat them like animals most are good people just made wrong choices or got missed up with bad people they all have a story to tell .

  19. I really wish the politicians and lawmakers, businesses and landlords of The State of Oklahoma would really take every single message on here seriously because people are really losing themselves, families and committing suicide when there’s nothing else to do to prove that they’re changed and trying to live a better life. So really, what are our options?

  20. It’s really sad that, the people that came up with the idea to make it so hard to get jobs and housing on felons should be put in the shoes of a felon trying to change their life and take care of their families. Because I can almost guarantee they have made a bad decision in the past but no one is holding it over their head and making life hard on them. They need to stop and realize they are no better then the people they are picking on. It’s not right being a bully.

  21. I have been in Enid for 11 months and I can’t seem to find a place i have two service animals and I lost my ID at work in North Dakota before I got here and I have been living at the hotel since and I pay 1174 a month that can be going to a vehicle and a home and I can’t catch a break I have a picture of my ID and I have my birth certificate and SSC I would greatly appreciate it if someone can help me out I’m dieing here financially

  22. Yes I’m 62 I have cancer I receive 459 a month ss I have like 3 or 4 drugs charges on my record but have been out of any trouble since 2008 what can I do to get housing I need to start working on getting my cancer cured but I need housing first I live in muskogee oklahoma thanks for any help

  23. I have a brother-in-law in Oklahoma who is going to be released from Prison soon. He is handicapped with Parkinson’s and has early stages of Dementia. He did not fight his case in court and ended up with a sex offender felony conviction. He never physically harmed anyone but scared some people due to actions brought about by the medication he was on which was later changed just before he went to jail. He cannot be employed or live on his own with his disability. We cannot find a place to put him due to his conviction. We cannot bring him home to our state because our State Laws will not allow him to live in our location. We’re not independently wealthy so quitting our jobs and moving out of town to care for him is not an option. Has anyone had a situation like this and what agency can we turn to?

  24. i need help i was setup by the state over a demostic violence charge which i got almost killed and stabbed in, and the state picked it up with no stern evidence gave me no bond and locked me up for 3 months untill i finally signed my”life away” to get out. i have completed all programs required, and now i can’t find any where to live for a whole year!!!!!! email me please

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