When the city hired Becky Gligo in 2019 to become Tulsa’s first housing policy director, it marked the beginning of a shift in how City Hall addressed homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
After years of reacting, it was time to act.
“The reality is, the city has a lot of tools from a governmental standpoint that it can bring to the table if it is willing to engage,” said Mayor G.T. Bynum.
And it has — from convening nonprofits to work with the city on addressing homelessness to providing incentives for developers to include affordable housing units in their projects to establishing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, city government is more active than ever in addressing housing problems.
“She did, I think, a fantastic job,” Bynum said of Gligo.
But now she is gone. Gligo left her position with the city at the end of last year to run Housing Solutions, a nonprofit focused on reducing homelessness.
The city begins its formal search for her replacement on Friday.
“Becky did a fantastic job building the car, and now it is ready for somebody to drive and to take all of these tools that she has assembled and really make significant advancements in our community in addressing issues around homelessness and lack of affordable housing,” Bynum said.
The problems are real. A 2018 Eviction Lab study found that an average of 1,200 evictions were filed in Tulsa per month, giving the city the 11th highest eviction rate in the country. And the city’s own housing study found that Tulsa needs about 4,000 more affordable housing units.
Housing is considered “affordable” when rent accounts for no more than 30% of take-home pay for people making up to 120% of the area median income.
Other programs implemented recently by the city to address the affordable housing crisis include creation of a tax increment finance district designed to increase home ownership and foster neighborhood improvements near the Peoria-Mohawk Business Park, and the establishment of the Abode Initiative, which provides support to landlords and property managers to help boost Tulsa’s affordable housing stock.
The lesson of the last two years, Bynum said, is that a city does not have to wait for housing problems to arise before it sets in motion plans to address them.
“Becky was successful in getting city government to change the way we think about it so that we are not looking at solving homelessness in Tulsa as something you do after people are camping on a sidewalk,” Bynum said. “To solve homelessness in Tulsa, you have to start a whole lot earlier than that, and there are things you can do to make sure people never end up on the sidewalk.”
Bynum is thankful that the city now has programs in place to address just those kinds of housing challenges, making for a brighter outlook going forward.
“Whoever comes into this job is going to have a tremendous amount of infrastructure to support their work, both from the city and from the philanthropic community,” he said. “I think that is what makes it such an appealing job for somebody.”
Video: Mayor G.T. Bynum reflects on dealing with the pandemic for the past year.