Oklahoma Lawmakers Look For Affordable Housing Solutions

During today's Senate Judiciary Committee, speakers asked lawmakers to continue taking steps to combat the affordable housing crisis.

Tuesday, September 26th 2023, 4:57 pm



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Lawmakers took a deep dive into affordable housing issues crippling the state and looked at possible legislative fixes to work on before the next session. The Senate Judiciary committee was joined by speakers who shared data, concerns, and their ideas for solution. 

Lawmakers say it’s a complex and costly issue that doesn’t have an overnight fix. But experts in the area presented what they called small and attainable steps in the right direction.

The interim study was directed by Sen. Julia Kirt (D-OKC) and Senator Chuck Hall (R-Perry). 

Dr. Bryce Lowery, Associate Professor of Regional and City Planning in the OU College of Architecture began the presentation with the problems he’s seen. He said the biggest issue is that there is a discrepancy in supply and demand in affordable housing.

Dr. Lowery said while the state has an increasing number of neighborhoods and developments popping up, many of those housing options are too expensive for the average buyer. He explains we need to look at developing more affordable housing complexes or single-family homes to meet the real need.

Two of the other speakers were Amy Coldren, CEO of Shelterwell and Ginny Bass Carl, Executive Director of Community Cares Partners.

“This is an issue that we bring to you, and we are so appreciative that you have the ears and willingness to listen,” said Bass Carl.

They shared that one in four Oklahomans will pay over 30 percent of their salary towards rent, while 40 percent of Oklahomans struggle to afford a modest two-bedroom rental.

“I think we started to look at how complex some of those issues are and some possible directions for policy,” said Sen. Kirt.

Senator Hall worked to pass the Oklahoma Housing Stability Act last session. It is a $215 million appropriation for affordable housing.

“Were able to create housing units that we believe are affordable, these are houses that are between 1,200 square feet built at a construction rate of $160 a foot,” said Sen. Hall.

During today's Senate Judiciary Committee, the speakers asked lawmakers to continue taking steps to combat the affordable housing crisis.

“It's not just about money, this is about the legal system, about relationships between tenants and their landlords,” said Sen. Kirt.

Currently, Oklahoma is one of the cheapest states to file an eviction notice in, at just $45. The median range across the nation that was given during today's interim study was $50- $100. 

“This makes Oklahoma highly desirable to out-of-state predatory landlords who raise the rent and who prioritize evictions instead of repairs,” said Coldren.

“Protections for renters seem to be a big takeaway,” said Sen. Hall.

The Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act was created in 1978 and hasn't had substantial changes since it was enacted, Coldren said.

“Our landlord tenant act right now does not protect tenants if they complain,” said Sen. Kirt.

Another request from speakers during the study was for lawmakers to pass anti-retaliation laws. They shared stories of Oklahomans staying in leaking apartments with no air conditioning, because of fears they would be retaliated against if they complained.

“We should be able to wake up every day without worrying, where I am going to sleep tonight,” said Bass Carl.

Bass-Carl also asked lawmakers to extend the eviction timeline. She says even a 10-day extension would provide tenants more time to secure a new place to live, instead of being stuck on the streets.

She also asked lawmakers to increase the eviction filing fee by $100.

“Making it a little uncomfortable to have to file and to want to file an eviction,” said Carl-Bass.

These are all possible solutions that Senators Kirt and Hall say they plan to look at as they work on legislation for the next session.

“You're talking about 10-year timelines, 20-year timelines but if we didn't start aiming in that direction you're never going to get there,” said Sen. Kirt.

For the full video of today’s meeting, click here: https://oksenate.gov/live-chamber

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