Ruth Martin, Chief Legal Officer, Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa
Since 1967, the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa (THA), commonly referred to as Tulsa Housing Authority, has been providing safe, affordable and decent housing for persons in the Tulsa area. Today, THA serves approximately 20,000 Tulsans per month, providing housing through its own communities and also administering the Housing Choice Voucher program. THA’s mission is simple – THA exists to create a better Tulsa by transforming lives and communities.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives federal aid to housing authorities like THA to develop and manage housing at affordable rates. THA housing is reserved for medium to low-income individuals. HUD sets income limits and has articulated that if Americans spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent then their rent is not reasonably affordable.
One of THA’s mechanisms to fulfill its mission is exploring avenues to create and increase affordable housing. Currently, THA is one of the largest landlords in the city of Tulsa, with THA, or its affiliates, serving more than 4,000 residents in 13 residential communities. Ten of these are multi-family sites and three are high-rises specifically for elderly and disabled adults.
One of the City of Tulsa’s Equality Indicators topics goes directly to the heart of Tulsa Housing Authority’s mission – resident stability. It is no secret that affordable housing was in short supply before COVID-19, and the pandemic has only increased the burden to find affordable and safe housing. As a result, THA has engaged in multiple development initiatives to rehabilitate existing housing and build new, beautiful apartments. THA firmly believes that simply because a person has little income, it does not mean they should not live in safe, sanitary, decent and affordable housing with access to amenities we all seek. Without its residents, THA would not exist and cannot achieve its objectives. To that point, THA has completely revamped the way in which it acts before an eviction is filed. THA offers multiple opportunities to speak with and work with residents to find the necessary help before it files evictions. This includes meetings with their property manager, the Vice President of Affordable Housing, social service coordinators and even THA legal staff, all to avoid an eviction filing, when possible. These steps account for a dramatic reduction in filings. In fact, in 2016, THA filed 882 cases in comparison to 2020, THA filed less than 100 cases.
In addition, THA administers and/or provides a myriad of HUD programs. One such program is the Family Self-Sufficient (FSS) program. The objective of the program addresses a second Equality Indicators topic – homeownership. Through the FSS program, THA staff work with residents and voucher holders to carve out a pathway to becoming self-sufficient and survive without government housing assistance. Participants create goals that often take several years to complete, and over time they earn money that is deposited into an escrow account. The funds in the escrow account are given to the participant when they graduate. It is not uncommon for graduates to receive more than $10,000. Several graduates use the money toward a down payment on a house while others use the money to pay for their education or start a business. In 2019, THA awarded almost $125,000 to its FSS graduates.
A third Equality Indicator topic THA supports is reducing homelessness. More specifically, veteran homelessness. THA participates in HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program. The VASH program is a partnership between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to combat a lack of veteran housing. HUD provides specific VASH housing choice vouchers to veterans that are used to provide veterans with safe, decent and affordable housing. The program allows THA to subsidize the resident’s rent payments so long as the participant and private landlord are in compliance with HUD directives and their Housing Assistant Payment contract. For example, the market rent for a two-bedroom apartment may cost $800 per month, but based on the participant’s income, they can only pay $300 per month. If the residence meets HUD and THA standards, then THA would pay the landlord the difference of $500 per month. Applying this, HUD VASH vouchers allow veterans to take their vouchers to private landlords as a method to subsidize rent costs. THA currently has more than 50 HUD-VASH vouchers and has staff dedicated to helping veterans find a home.