For the next 90 days, help is right across the street for Tulsa County tenants in eviction hearings, and the court will help direct them to it.
The new Tulsa County FED Docket Social Services Hub is set up at Iron Gate, across from the Family Center for Juvenile Justice, where eviction proceedings have been held since mid-2020.
Free legal assistance is among the available services. Legal Aid Oklahoma Coordinator of Housing Advocacy Eric Hallett said there were around 100 tenants on Tuesday’s three-hour docket alone.
"That is 1.8 minutes per family to decide whether or not they become homeless. That's not a lot of time. I think it's not much to ask that the tenant family be given a few minutes of a lawyer's time to make sure that the eviction is a good eviction, to make sure that the money owed is actually owed," Hallett said. "So, I'm really grateful that we are now encouraging people to use lawyers again."
The hub will be open Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Information about available services, including rental assistance and mediation, is now going out with eviction summonses as well.
The nonprofit Housing Solutions worked with Tulsa County District Court judges to set up the hub at Iron Gate and have information about services mailed to tenants before their court dates. Executive Director Becky Gligo said the current situation is dire, considering 14,000 area tenants a year experienced the eviction process before the pandemic.
"And so, if you think about the COVID impacts, that's just going to be exponential and catastrophic. I think we would double if not triple the amount of people we have experiencing homelessness in our community. So, it's super important that we're all working together to get upstream of that," Gligo said.
Gligo said once the current crisis has passed, elected officials need to add protections for Oklahoma tenants.
The City of Tulsa and Tulsa County still have millions of dollars in federal funding available for back rent and utility bills through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. A federal eviction moratorium expired July 31, but the Biden administration is expected to announce new steps to stave off evictions in the coming days.