Even though Oklahoma is considered an affordable place to live, housing for many lower wage earners is still unaffordable. A worker earning minimum wage has to work more than 75 hours to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent of $716 per month in Oklahoma. As many as 40 percent of renters and 19 percent of homeowners are spending more than 30 percent of their incomes to afford housing, which makes it difficult for them to afford other necessities like food, clothing, transportation and medical care. Plus, most of the new housing under construction is out of reach for the majority of Oklahoma renters.
As I travel the state working on housing issues, I see the needs of our seniors and families and wonder how we can ensure the people of Oklahoma have the affordable housing they need now and in the future. In 2015, a statewide housing needs assessment was commissioned by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Oklahoma Financing Agency to look at Oklahoma’s projected housing needs through 2020. It was conducted by DeBruler Inc., Integra Realty Resources and the University of Oklahoma College of Regional Planning.
The comprehensive report includes county-specific data for all 77 counties in Oklahoma and identifies big-picture issues, such as: An anticipated need of more than 66,000 housing units by 2020; Oklahoma’s median household income growing at a rate slower than inflation; 240,229 housing units estimated to contain lead-based paint.
So how are we citizens of Oklahoma going to pull together to work on our housing crisis?
Reviewing more than 14,000 pages of data is a daunting task, but we can’t wait for someone else to solve our problems. With our state budget crisis, community and state agencies need to maximize their resources and ensure they are spending their dollars where it is needed the most. To help communities understand the data and initiate policy discussions, the Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing is hosting a series of Regional Housing Forums throughout the state through July to present the data in a regional context The Forums will be held in Alva, Ardmore, Lawton, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
I invite everyone in the state to attend a forum in their area and learn more about the assessment, data specific to their region and provide comment on policy changes. The Regional Housing Forums include lunch and two hours of continuing education credits for attorneys, real estate licensees and social workers. The Oklahoma Statewide Housing Needs Assessment is a gift to the housing industry. It is our duty as housing providers, legislators, economic developers, lending officers and community leaders to take this data and convert it to action items within our communities as well as affect policy change at the local, state and national levels. To stick the study on a shelf and turn our backs on it would be a waste of a wonderful resource and a disservice to our fellow Oklahomans. The Assessment is available for all to read at www.oklahomahousingneeds.org.
Andrea Frymire is board president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing. She is a licensed Realtor and Real Estate Instructor and serves the affordable housing community as vice president of Midwest Housing Equity Group.