Co-authored by Sabine Brown, Infrastructure and Access Senior Policy Analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, and Justice Jones, Homelessness and Affordable Housing Policy Analyst for Housing Solutions
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Oklahoma is in the midst of a housing crisis. With 46,688 eviction filings in 2022, evictions in Oklahoma surpassed pre-pandemic levels, which were among the highest per capita in the country. This crisis is driven by a severe lack of affordable housing, stagnant wages, and an unequal playing field between landlords and tenants due to Oklahoma’s landlord tenant laws. Legislators made a significant investment in affordable housing during the 2023 legislative session, but missed other opportunities to expand the state’s stock of affordable housing and ensure a level playing field between landlord and tenant in eviction proceedings. It is vital that advocates continue to talk to their lawmakers about increasing investments in affordable housing and revising policies that will slow the rising tide of evictions.
The legislature made a significant investment in affordable housing
Investments in affordable housing pay back enormous dividends. Families have more money to spend in their communities, children perform better in school, and communities can attract new business by providing adequate workforce housing. The state budget for Fiscal Year 2024 dedicates $215 million to help incentivize affordable housing construction through interest-free loans for more single-family dwellings and gap financing for single- and multi-family units to help address the state’s growing affordable housing crisis. Another bill, House Bill 2040, would have increased the state affordable housing tax credit cap from $4 million to $10 million. This bill passed through the House and Senate committee with strong bipartisan support, but failed to get a Senate floor vote before the legislative deadline. HB 2098 would have allowed Oklahoma residents to donate up to one percent of the sale of personal property to an affordable housing fund that can be used by cities, towns, and other entities to develop affordable housing; this bill did not advance this session and can be considered again during the 2024 legislative session.
Legislators this session seem to be realizing what many Oklahomans have known for a while – there simply isn’t enough housing to go around, especially for low-income families. The state needs 81,638 rental homes or apartments to meet the needs of extremely low-income renters (those making 30 percent or less of the area median income, or about $22,000 for a family of four). This represents an increase of more than 10,000 more homes than were needed in 2022. This year’s investment in affordable housing will help close the gap. But with such a large and rapidly growing gap, legislators should explore all options and revisit bills that failed to pass in the next legislative session.
Oklahoma renters will go another year without protections from landlord retaliation
Oklahoma legislators failed to advance HB 2109, a bill that would have brought the state in line with the rest of the country by adding anti-retaliation protections to the state’s landlord tenant act. Oklahoma is one of only six states without any form of protection against landlord retaliation. Without this protection, renters continue to face eviction, loss of lease, increased fees, and harassment simply for reporting health and safety concerns to their landlord or government agency.
HB 2109 was supported by a broad range of stakeholders, including direct housing service providers, charitable organizations, and real estate professionals. The bill, however, failed to meet the deadline to be heard in the Senate. HB 2109 can and should be brought up again next session to ensure Oklahoma renters are not punished for flagging health and safety issues in their rental homes.
Oklahomans need more action to address the eviction crisis
Eviction filings have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, posing a crisis that affects a substantial portion of Oklahoma’s population as 1 in 3 Oklahoma households rent their homes. The City of Tulsa’s eviction rate is the 11th highest in the nation, while Oklahoma City has the nation’s 20th highest rate. Oklahoma’s high eviction rate highlights how easily Oklahoma tenants can lose their homes. Unfortunately, efforts to reform the eviction process largely failed to advance this session.
HB 2277, a bill that would have slowed the eviction timeline and increased the eviction filing fee for landlords, failed to even get a committee hearing. Comparing eviction processes in Tulsa and Nashville, two cities of similar size and income levels, reveals how Oklahoma’s timeline and low filing fees contribute to Oklahoma’s high eviction rate.
In Tulsa, tenants can receive an eviction notice within five days of late rent; in Nashville, tenants receive a 14-day notice to pay or quit, granting them nearly three times as long to address the issue. It is also far more expensive for Nashville landlords to file an eviction than for Tulsa landlords: landlords in Nashville pay $127.75 to file an eviction, while Tulsa landlords pay $58 — less than half of Nashville’s filing fees. Higher filing fees lead to lower eviction rates, especially for renters in majority-Black neighborhoods. Increasing the eviction timeline and filing fee would help ensure eviction is a last resort for Oklahoma landlords. Such changes also would help ensure that unscrupulous landlords don’t use the legal system as a way to pad their profits.
While this year’s legislative session may not have resulted in much progress for Oklahoma tenants, there was a glimmer of hope with the passing of HB 2792. This bill instructs the Oklahoma Bar Association to update the eviction summons document that tenants receive. The revised summons will include easier-to-understand language. The language used in eviction summons had remained unchanged for more than half a century until now, and it was largely incomprehensible to most Oklahomans. With this bill’s implementation, tenants can now better understand their rights and navigate the eviction process more effectively.
Oklahomans must continue to advocate for access to safe, affordable housing
Legislators made a smart investment in affordable housing during this session, but they could have done more to keep Oklahomans in stable housing. Two in 5 respondents to an annual survey of Tulsa’s homeless population cited lack of affordable housing as the cause of their homelessness. One in every 5 respondents in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City explicitly cited eviction as a cause of their homelessness. These responses, directly from the impacted communities, highlight the urgent need for a better eviction process and an expansion of affordable housing options. Without these essential measures in place, the number of Oklahomans experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness is bound to rise. To ensure Oklahoma doesn’t miss another opportunity next year, advocates must continue to ask their state legislators for increased investments in housing and draft laws that strengthen eviction prevention.
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About the Authors
Sabine Brown joined the Oklahoma Policy Institute as an Infrastructure and Access Senior Policy Analyst in January 2022. She previously worked at OK Policy from January 2018 until September 2020 as the Outreach and Legislative Director, and earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. Before joining OK Policy she served as the Oklahoma Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Sabine also earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Health Science from the University of Oklahoma and was a physician assistant prior to discovering advocacy work. She grew up in Germany but has called Oklahoma home since 1998.
Justice Jones (she/her) has been the Policy Analyst for Housing Solutions since March 2023. She earned her bachelor’s in political science from Northeastern State University and is working towards her Master of Public Administration in Urban Planning from University of Central Oklahoma. Before her current position, Justice worked as a street outreach specialist with various Tulsa organizations for two years.