Oklahoma County evictions escalate, but help is available

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A sign instructs landlords and tenants to appear in Oklahoma County Eviction Court in September 2020 (Andrea DenHoed)

Evictions in Oklahoma County are increasing rapidly as stimulus and unemployment benefits paid directly to individuals as part of the federal government’s response to coronaviruses end, Michael Figgins, executive director of aid services said on Tuesday. Oklahoma Legal.

Figgins spoke at a virtual eviction prevention forum hosted by Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert and Oklahoma City Council Members Nikki Nice, JoBeth Hamon and James Cooper.

Legal aid is a non-profit organization that provides civil legal assistance to low-income individuals throughout Oklahoma. Figgins said the organization had assisted those who showed up at the county courthouse in response to a summons for eviction.

In 2020, the number of deportation requests dropped significantly, largely thanks to a combination of federal measures moratoriums on evictions and financial aid programs that gave money directly to individuals.

But as these programs ended, there was a resurgence of deportation requests. Figgins said there were 782 depots in Oklahoma County in May, 908 more in June and 995 in July. Last month there were 1,064 cases, he said.

According to data provided to NonDoc by County Court Clerk Rick Warren in September 2020, current numbers are close to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, around 1,197 evictions were filed on average each month, for a total of 14,360 during the year.

“There is a model out there,” Figgins said. “They are getting bigger every month. In August, there were more than 250 eviction requests per week.

Most of those deported are from marginalized groups, he said.

“From my experience as the Executive Director of Legal Aid, I can tell you that the people at risk of deportation are mostly blacks and Latinos,” he said. “They are low income. They are women with children. They have low credit scores and make liberal use of payday loans, pawn shops and credit cards to make ends meet. During the pandemic, when we had the stimulus and unemployment where it was, that population actually had economic gains. Now that the stimulus is gone and unemployment is gone, they have a lot more to lose and they are falling further behind. “

But Figgins said not all eviction requests result in people being evicted from their homes.

“If there is any silver lining, the number of rejected cases, where the tenant prevailed, was 764 in August,” he said. “So far we’ve had about 3,000 blocked (this year), because the tenant responded to the summons and came to the courthouse and got help.”

Evictions can lead to homelessness

The Homeless Alliance is a nonprofit organization that works to reduce homelessness in Oklahoma City. Executive Director Dan Straughan said the current availability of accommodation beds is well below what is needed.

“Our homeless count in Oklahoma City tonight will be over 1,500, so there are still 700 homeless people in the community,” Straughan said.

Straughan said the escalating number of evictions worsened an existing problem.

“Michael (Figgins) is talking about 1,000 evictions filed in Oklahoma County last month,” Straughan said. “These are households. Imagine three people per household. That’s 3,000 people in a system that’s almost 100 percent over capacity today. Preventing evictions becomes key.

Straughan said the Homeless Alliance helped put 13,500 people in shelters last year. But, even though the agency has become much more adept at finding housing for people in recent years, there is a huge demand for housing in Oklahoma City.

“Across the housing provider system in the social service system, every year for the past three years we have moved more people into housing than ever before,” he said. “That said, even as we get better and better at rehousing people, our overnight census counts have continued to increase. This means that despite the improvement in the placement of people in housing, the influx of the system is overwhelming them. The only way to reduce the numbers is to stifle this influx. “

More housing a solution

According to the 2020 census, about 14.9% of Oklahoma City’s population live in poverty. A person who earns $ 9,000 or less per year is considered to be below the poverty line. That number is $ 26,200 for a family of four, Straughan said.

The long-term solution is more affordable housing, he said. Oklahoma’s housing finance agency estimated in 2014 that the city was short of about 4,500 affordable housing units.

“In the long run, this shortage of truly affordable housing is the root cause of our number of homeless people,” Straughan said. “More than a mental illness. More than drug addiction. More than domestic violence. More than anything people think of when they think of the causes of homelessness. It is the lack of affordable housing. Preventing evictions upstream, while ensuring that owners are unharmed, will be key for the whole community to reduce our homeless population. “

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“There is a lot of money there”

Community care partners is a public-private partnership that provides emergency rent assistance funds allocated by the state and municipalities to help maintain housing stability for tenants and landlords.

The organization serves all 77 counties in the state, and the funds it uses come from federal CARES Act money distributed to state and local governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, Community Cares Partners has distributed $ 56.4 million in aid to tenants facing eviction or landlords to replace income for tenants unable to pay their rent. In total, it has provided assistance to around 13,525 households, according to its website.

Executive Director Ginny Bass Carl said owner participation in the program has been a barrier.

“We should have marketed this from the start as an owner aid because that was the biggest challenge,” she said. “As an owner and as a person who loves money in my bank, I don’t understand that I don’t take money, but there is, for some reason, and there are a variety of reasons, it is a categorical no. We convinced others and they got on board. As many evictions that we are able to avoid thanks to the aid payment, there is still a long way to go, especially as they are suing for possession rather than default.

Carl said the best thing people facing eviction can do is stay involved in the process. Ignoring summons and correspondence from the county and your landlord is a mistake, she said.

“If someone is being deported, we can get you help,” she said. “I tell people, if you want to be deported, don’t go to court. It is the clearest and cleanest way to get kicked out. Go to court and Legal Aid can help you file a request for assistance with us.

Carl said the Community Cares Partner application portal is currently closed until October 14 to clear a backlog, but the organization can still get help for those in imminent need and will be able to deal with it. more applications when its backlog is processed. Almost 95 percent of those who seek help get it, she said.

“It’s a low enough threshold to help you,” she said. “There is a lot of money there. We are at the courthouse every day in Cleveland and Oklahoma County. We are working as best we can with landlord lawyers and landlords to get the money back into landlord hands. In the event that a landlord chooses not to work with us and accepts assistance, we pay the tenant directly. The goal is to keep people in housing.

Carl said assistance with rent arrears since March 2021 can also be paid by the agency, if needed.

“If you’re evicted and you have to move, it’s really hard to move with this debt on your record,” she said.

Where to find help

For people threatened with deportation, assistance can be found at Homeless Alliance, (405) 415-8410; Oklahoma Legal Aid, (888) 534-5243; and Community Cares Partners via online submission form.

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