In just one hectic hour Monday morning, hundreds of Tulsa families requested more than $400,000 to help pay their overdue rent, easily exceeding the amount of money that the city’s biggest rent-assistance program usually gives out in a year.
The pace slowed down after the initial rush. But by the end of the day, more than 660 people had applied for emergency rent assistance, asking for more than $900,000 from two new Tulsa programs that are using federal COVID-19 relief funds to help prevent evictions.
Both programs launched simultaneously at 8 a.m. Monday. And the timing was not a coincidence.
A federal moratorium on some evictions expired 30 days ago but required landlords to give 30 days’ notice before filing a case. That means Monday was the first opportunity for some landlords to file evictions with the courts since the COVID-19 shutdowns began in March.
“We wanted to do something to help in this moment of crisis,” said Jeff Jaynes, executive director of Restore Hope Ministries, Tulsa’s largest rent assistance program. “The need is huge.”
Restore Hope and the Tulsa Housing Authority have been granted a combined $20 million in CARES Act funding to help Tulsa residents pay overdue rent if they have suffered a loss of income that can be blamed on the coronavirus. The two efforts have somewhat different qualifications and can offer different levels of help, but people can apply for both programs in one “seamless” process at tulsahousing.org.
“Tulsa already had an eviction problem,” Jaynes said, noting that the city had the 11th highest eviction rate in the United States even before the COVID-19 shutdown sparked a nationwide eviction crisis. “The epidemic is just making it worse.”
As many as 40 million people nationally and 500,000 in Oklahoma could face eviction this fall, Jaynes said, citing national studies.
Tulsa officials expect the Emergency Rental Assistance Program’s allocated funding to run out within a few days, but applications will be accepted through Sept. 4 nonetheless.
If the program can’t help everyone who qualifies, the Tulsa Housing Authority will start a waiting list, said Jeff Hall, vice president for strategic planning and intergovernmental affairs.
“If we can show there’s a need,” Hall said, “more funding would hopefully become available” from the county and state.
THA was bracing itself for a huge wave of applications Monday, but the pace still seemed shocking, Hall said. Even if people have returned to work after a COVID-19 shutdown or furlough, they may still be struggling to catch up on bills, he said.
“If it’s not affecting you,” Hall said, “it’s probably affecting somebody you know.”
Attorneys filed more than 20 eviction cases Monday in Tulsa County, according to court records. That wasn’t the deluge some feared, considering that Tulsa averaged 1,200 eviction cases a month before COVID-19. But landlords may be waiting to see if tenants can qualify for rent assistance, officials said.
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