From the Field: Oklahoma Advocates Leverage Findings from New Statewide Housing Needs Assessment

The Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing (OCAH), a statewide group that works closely with NLIHC , hosted the first of five forums on May 18 to examine the recently released Oklahoma Statewide Housing Needs Assessment and to discuss the state’s need to create more affordable housing and increase housing stability. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency released in March the Statewide Housing Needs Assessment, a comprehensive report on current and projected housing needs and disaster resiliency across the state’s 77 counties. The assessment analyzes the need for expanded rental and homeowner housing and the degree to which problems like lead based paint and a lack of preparation for natural disasters disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.

Nineteen tornados hit Oklahoma over two days in May 2013, killing 26 people and injuring 377 others. The destruction forced Oklahoma state leaders to acknowledge the state’s overwhelming housing need. In the town of Moore, Oklahoma, one tornado destroyed 1,150 homes and caused an estimated $2 billion in property damages. Recognizing the importance of safe and secure housing as an element of disaster preparedness, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce commissioned the Statewide Housing Needs Assessment, which focuses on household composition, population, subpopulation, disaster readiness, and housing stability.  Integra Realty Resources-Tulsa/OKC, the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture Division of Regional and City Planning, and DeBruler Inc. collaborated on the assessment, which was funded through a HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Researchers focused on four factors for each county: disaster resiliency, homelessness, fair housing, and residential lead-based paint hazards. The study found that these factor consistently overlapped. Homeless individuals and populations protected under the Fair Housing Act are most at risk in the case of natural disaster because many lack access to adequate shelter and often must take cover in cars, mobile homes, or other unsafe structures. Low and moderate income households occupy a disproportionate number of the nearly 250,000 housing units with high levels of lead-based paint in the state.

Researchers noted that the January 2015 Point-in-Time count of 3,777 homeless persons in the state likely underestimates the homeless population significantly. They also found that a lack of affordable housing is the chief cause of homelessness. To meet the needs of homeless individuals and other low and moderate income residents over the coming five years, the state’s housing stock will need to add 11,630 rental units affordable to those earning 60% or less of area median income (AMI). The researchers used HUD’s Fair Housing Assessment Tool and various sources of data to determine the disparate impact of current housing policy on vulnerable populations. Their assessment revealed that 70% of affordable housing units, which was defined as units affordable to those making 60% of AMI or less, are located in census tracts with marked levels of poverty, and 62% are located in majority-minority districts. The report will help the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency ensure that newly constructed units further fair housing as mandated by HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule.

OCAH has already begun to leverage the findings of the Statewide Housing Needs Assessment to spur action. Working with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, OCAH will host five regional housing forums to educate advocates, state leaders, and elected officials on the impediments to housing accessibility for low and moderate income Oklahomans and the negative impacts of housing insecurity on the state’s economy. One hundred advocates, developers, and state leaders attended OCAH’s first forum on May 18 in Oklahoma City. OCAH Board President Andrea Frymire and Steven Shepelwich of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City opened the event and welcomed attendees.  Study contributors Byron DeBruler of DeBruler Inc., Dr. Bryce Lowery of the University of Oklahoma Division of Regional and City Planning, and David Puckett of Integra Realty Resources-Tulsa/OKC spoke about the results of the study and how advocates can best use its findings. The event concluded with a group discussion of the report and a one-year anniversary celebration of the OCAH’s founding. The four remaining forums will take place in Alva, Tulsa, Ardmore, and Lawton.

“It is imperative that our state and community leaders take the data from the Housing Study and create a plan to solve Oklahoma’s housing shortages,” said OCAH Board President and Midwest Housing Equity Group Inc. Vice-President Andrea Frymire. “With the legislature attempting to claw back 2014’s Oklahoma Affordable Housing Act, the affordable housing industry is poised to lose another funding mechanism.  Communities need to speak out for effective policy change to help available funding stretch further. From city council members to the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency to our state legislators, we must be efficient and cognizant that our actions are working for the betterment of all citizens of our state.”

For more information or to register for upcoming forums, visit http://oklahomahousingneeds.org/ or  https://affordablehousingcoalition.org/, or contact Andrea Frymire at afrymire@mheginc.com