Landlord at odds with nonprofit serving Tulsa’s poor given more time to rehab properties
In a case that’s thrown into relief Tulsa’s deeper equality issues, a landlord cited for nuisance properties will get three more months to comply after he appealed the city's findings.
Stephen Buford owns much of Crosbie Heights near downtown. At a city council meeting Wednesday, Buford reiterated his position that he can’t fix up six of his properties to be rental housing as long as a local nonprofit hosts a weekly Thursday dinner nearby for Tulsa’s poor.
“You’re asking us to fix something up that’s not gonna work,” said Buford.
Buford said fixing up the houses is too risky with several hundred unhoused folks congregating in the neighborhood every week, and that the city's mission to invigorate Crosbie Heights via a Vibrant Neighborhoods designation is incongruent with the weekly Night Light dinner at Maybelle Avenue and Reconciliation Way.
City employee Brant Pitchford detailed meetings with Buford going back to 2022, saying that in his 26 year career they were the lengthiest negotiations around possible demolitions he has seen.
Pitchford also noted that some houses owned by Buford near the event site are already rented.
“I would like to note within a block or two he has one, two, three, four, five, six, seven properties actively rented,” said Pitchford.
Buford said three of the properties are rented to employees of Quapaw Investments, his company, and at least one has been fixed up on the outside but does not actually have a tenant.
Four councilors initially voted to deny Buford’s appeal, meaning his dilapidated houses would be demolished. Councilors Laura Bellis, Lori Decter Wright, and Vanessa Hall-Harper joined Crista Patrick in skepticism that more time would make a difference.
Patrick said Buford is “digging in” about the properties and his claims that renting them might be a financial disaster don’t match the offers of help he’s received from officials.
“You can say I won’t fix these houses if Night Light Continues to be there. You have a right to say that. But there’s also a difference between ’It’s not a good business investment’ and ‘I’m not going to fix these houses if Night Light continues to be there, and I’m not going to anybody else a chance to fix them either,’” said Patrick.
Jeannie Cue, Grant Miller, Jayme Fowler, Christian Bengel, and Phil Lakin voted against denying Buford's appeal.
After the demolition bid failed, councilors unanimously agreed to give Buford more time. Phil Lakin said he’s reluctant to get rid of any housing while the city is in the midst of a housing crisis.
“I don’t want to see those homes go. Once they go, they’re gone.”
Whether or not to demolish the houses will be revisited May 8.