While most Oklahoma counties have stopped eviction proceedings, that does not mean filings have stopped.
More than 1,100 evictions have been filed statewide since March 15, according to Open Justice Oklahoma. Director Ryan Gentzler said when courts are once again allowed to function nearly as normal, the backlog will mean a wave of families removed from their homes before an economy weakened by COVID-19 has had a chance to recover.
"We’re looking at an unemployment rate that’s 15% or more at the time that people are looking for housing. It’s just a really, really dire situation for these people that are very likely to be without a job and without housing when the economy is really in a really deep, deep recession," Gentzler said.
Muskogee, Cleveland and Garfield counties are considering eviction hearings "emergency proceedings" and holding them by phone.
"The judge will call the plaintiff, call the defendant, and if they can’t get a hold of the defendant, those evictions will happen automatically. So, it’s a very big problem for public health and really just a miscarriage of justice to think that’s a fair thing to do during a pandemic," Gentzler said.
Around two dozen families in those counties have been evicted.
Gentzler said state officials should consider an outright moratorium on evictions during the pandemic.