Advocates urge lawmakers to ease barriers to affordable housing

Manufactured housing, grants touted as solutions

By: - November 15, 2023 5:29 am
Deanna Fields, Manufactured Housing Association of Oklahoma

Deanna Fields, of the Manufactured Housing Association of Oklahoma, urges lawmakers to consider manufactured homes as a solution to affordable housing during an interim study Tuesday at the Capitol. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)

Oklahoma could increase the number of affordable homes and rental units if lawmakers ease city building codes and fund new grant programs, advocates said.

During the bipartisan interim study on Tuesday, affordable housing advocates called on lawmakers to lift city-imposed bans on manufactured housing, reign in rising insurance costs, and consider appropriating additional taxpayer funds to help build new homes and rental units.

Lawmakers often use interim studies to help craft legislation.

Housing authority officials told lawmakers that higher interest rates and housing costs have limited the impact of federal housing dollars. Meanwhile, the state needs over 26,000 affordable housing units. Wages have remained flat against rising housing costs.

Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, who requested the study, said affordable housing is an investment in the state’s future.

“The more that we can invest in people, the better off we’re going to be in terms of bringing in more people, more economic development to our state, ” Pae said.

Erik Solivan, of the Tulsa Housing Authority, praised the success of partnerships with foundations and the City of Tulsa to maximize federal affordable housing dollars.

He asked lawmakers to consider state-funded grants to incentivize similar partnerships throughout the state.

“The more grant funds you can have available to close that (housing) gap, the better,” Solivan said.

Solivan also urged lawmakers to address rising insurance costs, which are up by 30% or more.

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, who also requested the study, said he’s willing to explore all policies to boost housing supply, but he was concerned that fellow lawmakers might view grants and further incentivizing developers as “growing government.”

“This (study) is just scratching the surface of what we really need to wrap our minds around,” Bennett said. “Considering the political realities, considering the limited resources, we’ve got to be as creative as possible.”

Deanna Fields, executive director for the Manufactured Housing Association of Oklahoma, told lawmakers the industry builds homes that are comparable with site-built housing, but at much lower costs. The association advocates for the industry as it faces widespread bans in cities.

“Our industry has long suffered from being excluded as a mainstream choice for affordable housing because of zoning,” Fields said.

Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, said it was unclear whether funds in the Housing Stability Program would be spent on manufactured homes. The $215 million state program offers zero interest loans to build new homes and rental properties. Rules to spend the funds are still being considered by the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, which administers the program.

Darrell Beavers, the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency development director, said a public hearing on Nov. 29 could influence the program’s rules before they are finally adopted next month.

Loans for developers could be available “right after the first of the year” if the Governor signs the emergency rules, he said.

If successful, the program could serve up to 900 families, Beavers said.



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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.