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Pandemic may have slowed evictions in south Tulsa, but new wave may be coming

Pandemic may have slowed evictions in south Tulsa, but new wave may be coming

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Covering a five-mile stretch of Memorial Road, ZIP code 74133 includes some of the busiest shopping areas in south Tulsa and some of the biggest suburban apartment complexes, where the relatively young and relatively well-off can live within minutes of Woodland Hills Mall and other popular destinations.

It also has one of the city’s highest eviction rates, despite the area’s median income being well above average. South Tulsa has a concentration of what local officials call “eviction mills,” usually owned by out-of-state interests that file a disproportionate share of eviction cases and seem partly responsible for giving the city the 11th-highest eviction rate in the country.

This year, however, Tulsa has taken advantage of federal moratoriums and emergency rental assistance programs to significantly reduce the number of evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. And ZIP code 74133 seems to have benefited the most, with its share of cases dropping more than any other area’s, according to newly released data from Open Justice Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, some of Tulsa’s poorest ZIP codes have seen a slight increase in their share of evictions, suggesting that anti-eviction efforts might be helping the middle-class more than the underprivileged. Tulsans have applied for more than $15 million in rental assistance this year, funded through federal stimulus efforts.

“The pandemic has affected all of us but it has had a disproportionately large impact on those families that are on the knife edge of poverty.” said the Rev. Jeff Jaynes, executive director of Restore Hope Ministries, which helps people facing evictions. “Those families had less margin even before the effects of COVID-19 spread through our economy and our community, and the pandemic made that worse.”

One out of three Tulsa families is “cost burdened” with housing, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income on rent or other housing costs. With less margin to work with already, those families are one unexpected event away from a financial crisis, whether it be medical bills, a furlough or perhaps increased child-care expenses.

“We are seeing new cases from across the city, and from people facing eviction for the first time,” said Amanda Faith, director of homeless prevention at Restore Hope. “Many families I talk to were doing fine — some were doing great — before the pandemic. But they have since run into the hardest time of their lives.”

Before the pandemic, Tulsa courts had been averaging 1,200 eviction cases per month in recent years. But with COVID-19 closing courtrooms for much of 2020, Tulsa has seen fewer than 4,300 cases filed so far this year.

Nonetheless, officials are worried that a tsunami of evictions could hit Tulsa as early as January, when the wave would sweep across middle-class neighborhoods as well as underprivileged areas. Federally funded rental assistance programs will expire at the end of the year if Congress doesn’t authorize an extension, local officials said.

“We’re seeing a delayed impact,” said Becky Gligo, director of housing policy for the city of Tulsa. “The full extent of the crisis hasn’t hit yet.”

For the city to avoid the full brunt of it, federal officials need to extend rental assistance funding, Gligo said, but local officials also need to implement long-term eviction reforms, such as landlord mediation.

“We need alternatives to eviction,” Gligo said. “We need landlords and tenants to work together.”

July video: Let’s Talk town hall on eviction crisis

Let's Talk Town Hall discusses the eviction crisis.

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