OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A new legislative report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency points to an affordable housing crisis for Oklahoma due to a number of factors, including general market conditions, affordability and demand that outpaces available stock.

Senator Julia Kirt sounded the alarm following a meeting Wednesday to discuss the report:

Kirt reviewed a report as part of an evaluation of the Oklahoma Housing Finance Authority on Wednesday, as a member of the Oversight Committee for the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency.

“The top line is that rising housing costs mean we can’t help as many people,” Kirt said in a statement early Wednesday.

“We know the waitlist for housing vouchers is too long and people are needing to use these vouchers for longer and longer periods of time because there are no other options in their price range. We have a clear need for more housing for individuals and families with very low incomes and those who work anywhere near the minimum wage. I’m glad the state is investing millions to incentivize new, high-quality rental housing, but we have to ensure new units are affordable for the range of wages in each community.”

The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) finances affordable housing resources for eligible individuals and families, including programs aimed at helping groups afford housing through rental or home ownership, as well as programs that assist in the development of additional housing, ranging from low income to workforce housing.

The evaluation resulted in three key findings, including:

  • Market conditions, like rising rents and a lack of new low-income housing development are “blunting” the impact of OHFA’s programs
  • OHFA’s development programs focus on low-income multi-family housing, but Oklahoma is in need of affordable housing of all types
  • New state programs create opportunities for innovation in housing policy

While a brand, new report shows Oklahoma’s Housing Finance Agency is already tackling a shortage with low-income and multi-family housing, Kirt said it’s not helping enough people.

“We have a ton of working people in Oklahoma who can’t find an affordable place to live, and I don’t think we’re doing all we can,” she said in an interview with the station.

“My big takeaway is we need more, and we need it now,” she continued.

“If we don’t address the root cause of having affordable places for people to rent, we’re going to more people out of their homes. For a very small amount of money, we can give people a subsidized rent instead of having them homeless and having to deal with all those challenges.”

In a statement to KFOR, the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency acknowledged the evaluation and LOFT’s interest and “dedication to informing lawmakers and the general public about OHFA’s programs”:

OHFA, as a public trust with the State of Oklahoma as its beneficiary, operates autonomously in accordance with section 176.1 of the Public Trust Statute. Although not categorized as a state agency or part of Oklahoma’s executive branch, OHFA values the legislature’s trust in assigning OHFA the responsibility of establishing and managing a $215 million program to address housing needs throughout the State.

Deborah Jenkins, Executive Director
Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency

Numbers compiled by the Oklahoma Policy Institute show at least two out of five Oklahomans who work full time cannot afford a stable home, according to the Oklahoma Policy Center.

That’s evident in Oklahoma County, where Commissioner Carrie Blumert said people are often paying so much for housing, they can’t make ends meet elsewhere.

“The number of people who are in that low to moderate income range and the number of units we have available here in Oklahoma County …the numbers don’t match up [and] a lot of people are paying way more than 30 percent of their monthly income just to pay rent,” she said, noting many people end up staying with family or friends, or working multiple jobs to make rent.

In a separate initiative to address the issue at the county level, Blumert is spearheading an effort to offer “safe, long-term, affordable housing” that she says will help thousands of county residents in the coming years.

The Oklahoma County Home Finance Authority (OCHFA) recently awarded $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA funds) to local nonprofits and housing developers.

Blumert said the funding was allocated to five local entities committed to leading affordable housing initiatives, including Rose Rock Development Partners, Progress OKC, Community Action Agency, Collective Strategies, and Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City.

Commissioner Blumert will host a town hall on September 25 at 6 p.m. at the Del City Community Center to discuss the need for affordable homes in her district.

“Housing is such a basic thing that someone needs to have to be successful [and] it should be a basic human right that you have access to affordable housing,” she added.

Iesha Larkpor, Managing Broker of Thunder Realty, works with homebuyers in all income brackets.

She can attest: the affordable housing demand can’t keep up with supply.

“Affordable housing is almost crisis level,” said Larkpor.

“In our Oklahoma City market, especially price ranges that are below the average price range, [homebuyers are] particularly having special challenges right now,” she added, while saying her team proactively works for offer clients multiple strategies to navigate the current market.

While home ownership often signals stability and long-term wealth building, the current crisis leaves the opportunity steadily out of reach for many.

“[In] 2022, you could buy a house $120,000 and it would be eight, $900 a month. It’s like $1,300 a month now, [so] if you got a car payment or other bills, it makes it really difficult,” she added.

“The prices are continuing to go up, and that’s a part of the demand.”

Two additional town halls sponsored by the Oklahoma Police Institute and Together Oklahoma will also address how a lack of affordable housing impact local communities:

  • Tuesday, Aug. 29, 6 p.m., in Ada at the Wintersmith Lodge, West Room, 1700 Wintersmith Drive. 
  • Wednesday, Sept. 6, 6 p.m. in Edmond at Liberal Arts South Lecture Hall (Room 101), University of Central Oklahoma.