By Nathan Harvill
Housing and Resource Coordinator
Community Service Council
There are approximately 300 individuals in Tulsa who are chronically homeless or are veterans experiencing homelessness at the time of publication. Three hundred individuals and 22,000 available homes. Sheer numbers would imply that there would be an abundance of housing for every person within the city who needs it. But there are barriers.
There is more than simply transforming a vacant unit into an occupied one. In order to secure housing, landlords require more than just an in-need occupant. The things that keep people out of housing include past eviction, a loss of job or a felony conviction. These barriers do not go away, even if a person turns his or her life around BEFORE finding a home. Then there is the fact that these Tulsans experiencing homelessness have financial barriers to housing. Move-in costs can be substantial and decent housing— even if deemed “affordable”—can still be cost-prohibitive to a person with a fixed income or no income at all. Additionally, the location of the vacant homes with willing landlords can be in areas with high crime or high poverty, which can reinforce the marginalization of the individual and can be a recipe for a return to homelessness.
My job is to help find those specific opportunities where a landlord will partner with our organization to provide one or two apartments at an affordable rate for our clients. Oftentimes this means a discount, which in turn provides a tax break to the landlord.
The AWH4T Solutions
While I work to reduce barriers on the housing side, A Way Home for Tulsa is collaborating to break down these barriers for individuals. There is a lack of local, state and federal funds for this issue, so the agencies work together to find resources including waivers, private funds, donations or programs that will knock down these housing barriers.
In addition to a multi-organization effort to find and support those experiencing homeless in Tulsa, creative solutions are needed to convince landlords to accept tenants they would normally turn away. We are in the beginning stages of implementing a unified application for housing that is used by all shelters and organizations in AWH4T as a one-stop point-of-entry. This would be a way to notify any apartment of the dedication and efforts of the future tenant to correct any previous mistakes, such as a crime. It would also notify them of the support system that is in place for the applicant.
To counteract financial barriers, a North Carolina organization created a program that provides housing by the landlords taking a “loss” at the beginning of the occupancy, but then gradually increasing the rent to market status. Implementing something like this in Tulsa would be a step in the right direction.
It will take time to build the necessary relationships to make this initiative successful as there are many different participants and roles. I believe that if we can focus on the common desired result—housing for everyone who needs it—we can be very successful.