More seek rent assistance
ERAP requests see at least a 16% increase
With September rents due and no more federal moratoriums to prevent evictions, an increasing number of Tulsans are seeking help with making overdue payments, local officials said this week.
More than 700 tenants requested help during the first week of the month, at least 16% more than in a typical week, according to the Tulsa Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The federally funded effort has distributed more than
$12 million in rent and utility payments to more than 2,500 Tulsa households since the effort began in March.
“We definitely have seen an increase since the moratorium ended,” said Jeff Jaynes, executive director of the nonprofit group that is administering the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in Tulsa. “We want people to know that we have the resources and the funding available to help both the tenants and the landlords.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has “paused” a similar program, which won’t take any new requests from the general public for the next six weeks to give its workers time to catch up on a backlog of 13,000 applications. For now, only tenants who are already on an eviction court docket can ask for ERAP money in Oklahoma City, officials said.
To avoid a backlog of its own, Tulsa’s program has added several new staff
members in recent weeks to keep up with the increasing number of applications, Jaynes said.
The program has already spent more than 75% of the federal stimulus funds that have been allocated to the city of Tulsa for rental assistance. But if necessary, funds could be reallocated from the county or state to keep ERAP payments flowing here, Jaynes said.
Officials have long expected a wave of new eviction cases once the federal moratorium ended. And the city saw a brief surge in early August, when the Biden administration allowed the moratorium to expire but then reinstated it a
few days later.
The moratorium ended again Aug. 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unlawful. But another wave doesn’t seem to be hitting Tulsa, at least yet. The city saw an average of 10 evictions filed in court per day in the first week of September, less than half the average per day in August, according to data from Open Justice Oklahoma.
Most eviction cases, however, aren’t filed so early in the month. Landlords typically wait for grace periods to expire before heading to court, which means a
September wave could still be coming.
Historically, Tulsa’s eviction court docket peaks between the 20th and 30th days of the month, said Legal Aid attorney Eric Hallett, who works with local tenants free of charge.
“Despite our best efforts, we find that many tenants do not apply for ERAP until they are facing eviction,” Hallett said. “A lot of tenants learn about ERAP for the first time when they go to court.”
Tulsa County courts, however, now require that ERAP information be given to tenants when they are served with an eviction notice, which Hallett said “is a step in the right direction.”
The Trump administration first imposed the eviction moratorium, and the Biden administration continued it, as an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in crowded courtrooms and in homeless shelters, where many evicted tenants would end up.
“With the eviction moratorium now over,” Hallett said, “getting the word out about ERAP is the most important thing we can do to keep people housed and help prevent community spread of COVID-19.”