Affordable housing investment falls short in Oklahoma, report shows

Over 26,200 Oklahomans are waiting for rental assistance

By: - August 30, 2023 5:29 am

Lawmakers and Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency staff review a report on the state’s affordable housing crisis. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)

Oklahoma lawmakers’ investment in affordable housing programs isn’t enough to keep up with rising demand, low wages and a shortage of homes, according to a legislative watchdog’s analysis.

While lawmakers recently appropriated $215 million to boost supply, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) found that lawmakers have not made regular appropriations to the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), which administers affordable housing programs.

The state does offer a $4 million a year tax credit program to incentivize low-income housing development, but most of OHFA’s programs are federally funded, the analysis found.

The report showed that Oklahoma’s overall investment is well short of what’s needed. That’s in part due to rising rent and a shortage of new or available homes and rental units.

LOFT reported that OHFA spent $59.8 million in federal funds to create 9,847 housing vouchers. Those serve an estimated 25,250 people. Affordable housing means a person pays no more than 30% of their income on housing, including utilities.

However, 26,291 Oklahomans continue to wait for rental assistance.

“We have a great need for more affordable housing and that’s going to continue to grow with the stagnant wages we’re seeing with rising housing costs.

– Sabine Brown, senior policy analyst for Oklahoma Policy Institute

The state’s housing finance agency also distributes federal dollars to help families afford rent and home ownership. It also offers low-interest financing to developers for new affordable housing development.

In 2022, low-income Oklahomans waited an average of 18 months for assistance, less than the national average of 26 months.

The report showed there is also a gap for Oklahomans whose incomes exceed the limit, but fall below housing market prices. Financial assistance is limited to families who earn less than the income requirements in their area.

Adding to the crisis, LOFT noted that Oklahoma housing construction declined sharply in 2022 as the cost of home building materials climbed nationwide.

A third finding noted that between 2021 and 2022, Oklahoma had the 10th highest migration rate, which bumped the state to the 28th most populated. New housing units though increased by less than 1%.

OHFA declined to comment.

House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, told Oklahoma Voice that the findings show that lawmakers must focus on housing supply.

“Overall, the written report I reviewed shows that the Oklahoma Housing (Finance) Authority is doing a good job in an increasingly difficult housing climate,” Echols said. “The answer to make prices go down lies in simply supply and demand economics. We have a massive housing demand so we need to focus on policies to increase supply.”

Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, who serves on the LOFT oversight committee, also said more must be done.

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“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,” Kirt said in a statement.

Kirt pointed to a 2023 state law that took effect July 1 that’s supposed to incentivize the construction of affordable homes. The housing finance agency, which administers the $215 million Oklahoma Housing Stability Program, has drafted plans to offer zero interest loans for single-family home developers, down payment assistance to home buyers, and zero-interest loans for developers that construct rental units.

Sabine Brown, senior policy analyst Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the law is a good start, but it’s not enough to keep up with demand.

“We have a great need for more affordable housing and that’s going to continue to grow with the stagnant wages we’re seeing with rising housing costs,” Brown said. “Oklahoma is going to need a lot more investment to close the gap.”

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City, said the housing crisis keeps getting worse. His group works with other organizations to house people experiencing homelessness.

“Oklahoma City had the fastest rising rent of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. from Oct. 2021 to Oct. 2022,” he said, citing a 2022 Redfin report. The study placed Oklahoma first in the top 10 states for rent hikes at 31.7%.

Straughan said many landlords refuse to accept housing vouchers.

LOFT recommends the housing finance agency create rules to ensure the state’s housing stability program develops new affordable housing areas, prioritizes shovel-ready sites for development and provides guidance to address the waiting list for housing vouchers.


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Mindy Ragan Wood
Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy covers the legislature for Oklahoma Voice. Her areas of focus include infrastructure, municipal government policies, and human services with an emphasis on the needs of intellectually vulnerable and physically challenged adults.