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A House bill sponsored in the House by Rep. Kyle Hilbert, Republican of Bristow, and in the Senate by Sen. Stephanie Bice, Republican of Oklahoma City, seeks to cut tax incentives by 50% for the building of affordable housing in Oklahoma.

HB 2760, scheduled to cross Governor Stitt’s desk Wednesday, will cut those tax incentives from $4 million to $2 million. The bill is retroactive to January 2020, meaning that funding can be cut for developments already approved and underway since the beginning of the year.

Affordable Housing

In debate on the Senate floor Bice said that “The affordable housing shortage is less prominent in Oklahoma than almost all other states. There are six other states that have what would be considered more affordable housing per capita than Oklahoma.”

Free Press spoke via phone to Greg Shinn for response. He is the Chief Housing Officer of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, for response.

“Oklahoma does not have nearly enough affordable housing,” Shinn said. “We need over 11,600 affordable rental units statewide for seniors and families below 60% of Area Median Income.”

“Also, 40% of renters pay more than 50% of their income for rent and unsheltered homelessness is up significantly. The need for more affordable housing is dire.”

Bice did not respond to phone calls or email for further comment on the legislation by publication time.

Advocate Reactions

“We’re already 5,000 units short on truly affordable housing in Oklahoma City. To reduce that right now makes no sense,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City.

Shinn said, “These cuts are not negative only for affordable housing, but also for job creation. These [construction jobs] are good jobs that pay income taxes and sales taxes. This is a net loss.”

“This is retroactive to January of 2020. There are seven developments already in the process of being built with a total of 500 apartment homes across the state that will lose that funding,” said Shinn.

“They will lose those jobs right at the worst possible time when people are already losing record numbers of jobs because of the COVID pandemic.”

“We have been working at the national level with the National Low-income Housing Coalition, as well as the Oklahoma Low-Income housing Coalition. We are encouraging Governor Stitt to use his veto power on this, and we are joined by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce,” Shinn said.

Eviction tsunami

Shinn and Straughan both made reference to the coming “tsunami of evictions” facing Oklahomans in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant loss of wages and jobs.

“We have 394 evictions and 25 foreclosures filed in Oklahoma County,” Straughan said, “even more in Tulsa.”

We asked Representative Forrest Bennett for comment on the issue by text message. He is Democrat representing HD 92 on the south side of Oklahoma City.

“Access to affordable housing is the foundation of an essential safety net,” said Bennett. “I believe the narrow lens through which the budget team sees this incentive – the idea that if it isn’t providing a direct benefit to the state, we can afford to cut it – is going to have real and devastating consequences to communities throughout the state.”

“It frustrates me that the powers that be in this building extol the virtues of local control and keeping tax dollars in communities, but forget about it when it would mean helping those who need it most,” Bennett said.

Last Updated May 13, 2020, 3:28 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor