OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City is seeing a record-breaking number of residents needing affordable housing while metro homeless shelters are short hundreds of beds.
The city has programs in the works to tackle the problem, but they could take years to complete.
“I just wish everybody could just have housing and there wouldn’t be no homelessness,” Jeremy Williamson told News 4.
Williamson said he’s been homeless since he was 14 years old. Like many Oklahomans, he lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He told News 4 lately, he spends his days sitting on the lawn of city hall.
“I don’t wish this on anybody,” Williamson said.
The Oklahoma City Housing Authority said nearly 29,368 families are waiting to get into public or Section 8 housing.
At the same time, metro shelters and outreaches said their resources are stretched thin.
“We have about 1,450 people experiencing homelessness. So we’re short 600 shelter beds,” said Dan Straughan, the Executive Director of the OKC Homeless Alliance.
The Oklahoma City Housing Authority (OCHA) said it needs four times the units to clear the waitlist. The city of Oklahoma City has allotted OCHA $55 million to spearhead the MAPS 4 Homeless Program.
“We have guaranteed somewhere about 1500 new units of affordable housing in Oklahoma City. Some of those will be for targeted populations,” said Mark Gillett, executive director of OCHA. “All of those units do go to address this waitlist need.”
Gillett said $22 million will go to new affordable housing, hopefully in the tan and brown areas on the map below.
Another $19 million is expected to go to renovating current public housing units. Gillett said the oldest units were built in the 1930s, whereas the newest units were built in the 1970s.
However, that project will take time.
Gillett said it will likely take 10 years before it is complete.
“That’s going to be 10 years too late, because everybody that’s on the streets now is either going to get locked up or they’re just going to spend the rest of their lives on these streets,” said Williamson.
Until then, the city of OKC is launched the “Key to Home” project aimed specifically at helping those living on the streets.
“This expedites that process where they go from the encampment directly into rent,” said Lindsay Cates, the Homelessness Strategy Implementation Manager.
Cates said they are currently gathering $12.5 million private and public dollars before the launch. They’re also hiring employees to negotiate with landlords to lock in affordable apartments.
“We’re saying [to the landlord] ‘We can hold that unit by giving you a fee and ask you to hold this unit within two weeks,'” Cates told News 4. “[The landlords] know that they are going to get rental income for a year.”
Cates said they are also looking for landlords to partner with.
“We need 500 units, at least. We want to double, if not triple that, because we always want to give clients a choice,” Cates said.
Their goal is to house 500 people by 2025.
“It’s just getting worse and worser out,” said Williamson.