By Kimberly Marsh

Special to The Oklahoma Eagle

 

Brittany Ross is a single mother of two. Today, like many other Tulsa families that are facing eviction because of economic loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ross and her children found themselves without a home for the first time.

Eviction filings are expected to increase at the courthouse beginning on Aug. 25. Until that point, tenants who had been protected by the CARES Act moratorium and were given an additional 30-day period for rent payments to avoid eviction. Once payments are overdue, late fees are added, and court fees are also applied, increasing the tenant’s costs by hundreds of dollars.

Housing agencies in Tulsa who are working to assist Tulsa County residents who face eviction because of lost wages emphasize the importance of appearing in court and working with an attorney to represent them in court against the landlord attorneys.

Aside from the pandemic, Tulsa is ranked 11th highest in the nation for evictions, primarily from out-of-state property companies. These companies are always represented in court, while tenants are not specifically aware of their rights. For resources to contact if facing eviction, see the information adjacent to this story.

When the pandemic hit in March, Ross, who has a Tulsa Housing Authority Choice voucher to assist with rent, said her THA payment was received late in the mail and her rent was not paid on time. Ross said the Vista at Shadow Mountain staff told her the complex was not required to comply with the federal moratorium set by the CARES Act and filed to evict her. The Vista at Shadow Mountain is privately managed but accepts THA rent vouchers that assist low-income families.

“I didn’t understand that because it receives HUD funding,” she said. “And if your payment is due March 5 and the voucher does not arrive in the mail (to property managers) until March 6, then they will add on $100 – $200 of late fees. I didn’t even know they (THA) still used mail to send the voucher. I thought it was electronic.”

Contrary to Ross’ account of her situation, which was reiterated by her attorney, THA General Counsel Ruth Martin said landlords that receive federal funding for their residents were not able to file eviction paperwork for missed rent when the moratorium went into effect on March 16. Housing choice voucher participants who were impacted by COVID-19 were encouraged to contact the Housing Authority so that assistance could be provided.

She said tenants who are directly impacted by COVID-19 are able to reach out to the Housing Authority to advise them and a resolution may be reached to avoid an eviction. THA announced Aug. 17 that they will receive $15 million in rental assistance to keep Tulsa County residents housed. The web portal will go live on Aug. 25 at www.tulsahousing.org and will include at least three different programs for housing resources.

Ross did what tenants that face eviction are encouraged to do: She sought free assistance from Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. Eric Hallett, a Legal Aid attorney, settled the payment issues with Shadow Mountain. However, that wasn’t the end for Ross. The apartment management told her that she and her children still had to move out by July 31. Since Aug. 1, Ross has been staying in motels waiting for word on the status of her rent payment for a different complex where she and her children were accepted as tenants.

Ross said the holdup was with the Tulsa Housing Authority. Hallett said his calls to THA regarding Ross’ status were unanswered until the Oklahoma Eagle informed them of this story.

Following The Oklahoma Eagle’s inquiry, a THA General Counsel Ruth Martin said the payment paperwork for Ross’ new home is now in process. She said the voucher is still in effect but that Ross waited too long to find housing, which caused the delay.

Martin said in an email reply to The Oklahoma Eagle, “THA has continued to process voucher holder requests without delay. THA staff takes its job seriously and, during COVID-19, has rallied to ensure there is no lag in process housing choice voucher applications. THA provides an essential service and did not skip a beat in its processing times. Our staff have worked during the shutdown to ensure those who need our services still receive help.”

Regardless of the situation, Ross was in a scary predicament for the last few weeks. Overcome by her sadness, Ross wept as she spoke about the children not having a home to begin their distance learning. Despite efforts by the Tulsa Public School system to provide computers and the City of Tulsa’s recent actions to give Wi-Fi access to students across the city, there are still people who are facing eviction or already out of their homes, making those efforts moot for many. Braxton, 8, should start virtual learning on Aug. 31. Her daughter Paris is 4.

“We have been homeless for nearly a month and I have nowhere to virtually school the children” she said. “I hope this (story) will help anyone going through the same thing and to bring awareness to this situation,” she said.

As this story was heading to print, Ross said she and her family found a safe place to stay with family until they are able to move.