O’Connor: Affordable housing and investment in OKC

January 25, 2017

by Cathy O'Connor, via The Journal Record:

Oklahoma City is often touted as an affordable place to live. In 2015, Forbes Magazine ranked Oklahoma City the fourth most affordable city in the country, with 77 percent of all housing affordable at the median family income. That’s the key – for median family incomes. For those with lower incomes, quality affordable housing is getting increasingly difficult to find.

According to data from the Oklahoma City Housing Authority, 42 percent of renters and 23 percent of Oklahoma City homeowners pay more than one-third of their gross income in monthly rent or mortgage payments. Worse is the 24 percent of renters and 10 percent of households with a mortgage more than half of their income for housing. This number is going up.

Oklahoma City’s low-income housing inventory hasn’t kept up with demand – and what we do have is aging. Between 2000-2013, Oklahoma City built five affordable housing units for every 100 households experiencing severe cost burden – 50 percent of income. Other cities averaged 32 units of new construction per 100 cost-burdened households.

Disinvestment is causing the widening gap. Affordable housing is accelerated by federal tax credits and grants that have disappeared, or been significantly reduced, in recent years. Federal community development funds, designated for construction and rehabilitation of low-income housing, have been cut nearly in half over the past five years.

Oklahoma City must address the trifecta of low inventory, high demand and reduced funding. Some solutions are relatively low-cost, such as including mixed price points within buildings and neighborhoods. The city has incentives in place to encourage development of affordable residential units in the Core to Shore area to ensure options for a spectrum of income levels. Progress OKC, the Oklahoma City Housing Authority and other partners are redeveloping distressed housing into affordable, mixed-income communities. Finally, we are planning for more senior housing to meet growing demand as baby boomers reach senior years.

We have significant work ahead. The solutions are critical to ensure Oklahoma City has housing options for every income level and the quality of housing that lives up to our national reputation as one of the best housing markets in the country.