Not long after local schools closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, a student emailed Betty Collins to explain why he couldn’t finish his classwork.
“Oh, man,” the note began. “This is bad.”
His family had gotten an eviction notice and had to leave the Union school district.
Even before the pandemic, Collins knew at least half a dozen eighth graders whose families had been evicted.
“If those are the ones I know about,” she said, “I can only imagine how big the problem really is.”
Tulsa has the 11th highest eviction rate in the United States, according to the national Eviction Lab, a research center based at Princeton University. And the COVID shutdown has put more families at risk of losing their homes, according to data from Open Justice Oklahoma.
Nearly half of all adults in Oklahoma have lost all or part of their incomes since the COVID shutdowns began in March, and 1 out of 3 Oklahomans are now struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, according to the data.
“The problem is bigger than a lot of people realize or can even imagine,” said Collins, a history teacher who spoke during an online conference hosted this week by a coalition of religious groups to discuss evictions in Oklahoma.
During the conference, members of the Tulsa City Council agreed to vote next week on a resolution asking Gov. Kevin Stitt to issue a moratorium on evictions in the state to give tenants more time to collect unemployment and stimulus benefits.
“We’ve exhausted all other means to address the issue” at the city level, council member Lori Decter Wright told those participating in the conference.
The push for an eviction moratorium started with a Tulsa religious coalition known as ACTION and a similar group called VOICE in Oklahoma City, where the City Council plans to vote on the same resolution.
The proposed state moratorium would extend to all rental properties a federal moratorium that currently applies only to properties that have federally backed mortgages and will expire July 25.
Tenants would still have to pay their rents in full but would have more time to seek employment or collect federal benefits, proponents said.
Meanwhile, the state could use federal stimulus funds to provide relief for landlords, said Jeff Jaynes, executive director of Restore Hope, a Tulsa ministry that helps tenants who are facing eviction.
“Landlords also have bills to pay,” Jaynes said. “Landlords have their own families to support. We understand that landlords need to be paid.”
Since the COVID shutdowns began in March, more than 2,500 eviction notices have been filed statewide, including more than 800 in Tulsa County, according to Open Justice.
But that’s considerably fewer than normal, with Tulsa alone averaging more than 1,200 eviction cases a month in recent years. Tulsa’s eviction docket, however, was on hold because of the pandemic and didn’t resume until Monday. Tenant advocates expect to see a surge now that the court is hearing cases again.
The Governor’s Office had not commented by Tuesday evening.