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Experts Recommend Several Actions Oklahoma Lawmakers Can Take to Help With Affordable Housing

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Witnesses at an interim study this week said Oklahoma must address its dearth of housing families can buy, and lawmakers can have a hand in doing so.

Darrell Beavers with the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency said the state is short thousands of units even working families can afford to own.

"The typical comment we hear from people is, 'Nobody I know needs affordable housing. Who are these people?' And it’s a list including our children starting their working careers, hotel maid staff, janitors, medical assistants, teachers, nurses, policemen, firemen," Beavers said.

Beavers said lawmakers should increase and guarantee funding for the state’s housing trust fund, which subsidizes affordable housing development.

Beavers said affordable housing is a unit a family earning no more than 80% of the area median income can rent or own for at most 30% of their monthly income, including taxes, insurance and utilities. In Tulsa, that's a household earning up to $41,820 a year able to buy or rent for $1,045.50 or less.

Mike Means with the Oklahoma Home Builders Association said with state and local regulations accounting for up to 25% of a home’s cost, one thing lawmakers can do is make sure governments aren’t doing things like banning building materials for aesthetic reasons. Tuttle, for example, recently banned vinyl siding.

"For every $1,000 increase in the price of a home, we price 1,940 families out of the market in Oklahoma," Means said.

While Oklahoma’s affordable housing stock is far short of what’s needed, banks may also be missing potential buyers already in middle- and low-income communities. Melvin Gilliam with Spirit Bank said they’ve found people who didn’t think they could get a mortgage with the credit scores and income to qualify through homebuyer classes offering $500 toward down payments and closing costs.

Gilliam said boosting home ownership rates helps communities by attracting other investments.

"Businesses come to rooftops that are owned, not rented, and in a lot of these communities, the majority of these homes are rented," Gilliam said.

Gilliam said the state needs to bolster its down payment and closing cost assistance program if it wants to help.